A Tale of Love and Fallout (Book Review)

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, a tale of love and fallout begins with a quote from Marie Curie: “There is no connection between my scientific work and the facts of private life”. Lauren Redniss, the author, apologises. Because in fact Radioactive is all about connections, drawing fascinating parallels between the Curie’s personal lives and their laboratory work. Each of the book’s nine chapters is a double entendre; titled for a scientific effect with an equally applicable colloquial meaning. For example, in Magnetism she addresses both the Curie’s work on electromagnetic properties and their blossoming, passionate romance; in Isolation she addresses the application of nuclear research, the horror of Chernobyl, Pierre’s death, and the experience of abandonment.

Besides clever parallels, Radioactive is notable because it defies categorisation. There are elements of biography and history yes, but at times it feels like an adventure story, a graphic novel, an art piece, and an epic romance. It is unexpected and fresh. Lauren Redniss has imagination that I’ve not seen rivalled anywhere. She’s designed her own typecast (named for Eusapia Palladino whose séances the Curies attended), used cyanotype printing to create images that seem to glow with an eerie other worldly light, and, taken a subject that might have limited appeal, to an entirely new audience. The text is thoughtful, really clever narrative, and effortlessly relates the Curie’s personal dramas, scientific breakthroughs, and radioactivity’s mixed legacy with incredible style.

Have you read it? Have I given such a glowing review that you’d like to?

Thank you to Louise for this book review: perfect for our ‘non-fiction’ theme this month.

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