If someone had told me a week ago that a book about Marie and Pierre Curie and their discovery of radium would take my breath away, I would have thought they were, to put it mildly, mistaken. While I’m interested in science in an NPR/Science Friday kind of way, a 200-page book about the Curies was not at the top of my to-read pile. But then I began reading reviews of Radioactive, and decided to take a look. An illustrated biography, Radioactive is the story of the Curies – their devotion to one another and their work, the ways in which their lives and deaths were impacted by their discovery, and the way in which, as Redniss writes: “Radioactivity had made the Curies immortal. Now it was killing them.”
The book is beautiful. It does not belong on an e-reader. From the moment I touched its textured cover and flipped through the luminous pages, I knew I would walk straight to the check-out desk. It is an art book and a biography. It’s a story of passion and commitment and the unanticipated consequences of any discovery.
The back cover of Radiation includes this quote from Malcolm Gladwell that sums it up perfectly.
“Radioactive is quite unlike any book I have ever read – part history, part love story, part artwork and all parts sheer imaginative genius.” As usual, Gladwell is spot on.