Sunday 7 February 2016

Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie - A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

I first heard about Radioactive during Non-Fiction November last year. It sounded delicious and exactly my cup of tea, so I put my order in at work straight away.

For my Yr 12 HSC (many, many moons ago) Science Depth Study I chose to learn about Marie Curie.
In those pre-computer, pre-internet days, I had to rely on my local library and my science teacher to source the information I needed.

I devoured impossibly obtuse science texts and difficult, dry biographies. I became obsessed despite of, or maybe because of, the Herculean nature of my undertaking.

But it wasn't the science that grabbed my attention so decidedly.

It was the fact that Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel prize for science and then the first person - male or female - to win it twice. It was rejoicing in a woman tackling a 'man's job' and doing it well - very, very well. It was the romantic working partnership with Pierre. It was the generational love of science they fostered in their daughters and grandchildren as they all followed in their scientific footsteps. It was the complicated, ethically fraught philosophy of discovery, patents, shared knowledge and how to use this new science - for good or for bad.
And it was also the frustration of hindsight. Watching Marie and Pierre work day in, day out with no protection around radioactive substances, knowing what we know now, how they were in fact, hastening their own deaths.

When Radioactive turned up in the new year I was thrilled to see the oversized, colourful, textured cover peeking out of the eco-bubbles. I was instantly transported back to my 17 yr old self - the enthusiasm I had for learning and knowledge, the belief that I could do anything and the birth of one of my many obsessions that has lasted a lifetime.

If not for Katie's Reluctant Romantic challenge to read outside my usual genres to find a new love, Radioactive may have lingered on my TBR pile, like so many other wonderful books *sigh* despite my obsession with the topic.

However Radioactive does not fit neatly into the graphic non-fiction definition. In fact, it doesn't fit neatly into any known genre! Redniss does not use the comic strip format, but her art work is an integral part of the story and she created her own font for the text.

It is non-fiction - part biography, part scientific treatise, part philosophical discussion.
And it is beautiful.

Redniss uses a process called cyanotype printing to create these images, which she describes in the notes at the back of the book. She also uses photography, drawings and maps.

I guess it doesn't matter, in the end, what genre this is (unless you're trying to shelve it in a library or book store!)

All you really need to know is that this book is bloody brilliant.
It satisfied everything my 17 (and my 47) yr old self could ever want from this topic. It was knowledge, it was beautiful and it touched my heart. It also left me craving more.

If you know of any other books that treats history, biography, science and philosophy like this one, please let me know. I want more!

This is my new genre to love!
Whatever it is.


  1. Wow. This book really does look interesting. I'll have to keep it in mind. I wonder if it's sort of similar in not-quite-graphic-novelishness as Invention of Hugo Cabret?

  2. Anonymous7/2/16

    I remember we had a chapter in one of reading books in primary school about Marie Curie - the illustrations here beat it 10 fold!

  3. This book looks so interesting. Your description as well as the page that you posted indicate such creativity.

    In addition to the uniqueness of the book I would like to know more about MarieCurie.

  4. As a scientist who has been taught mostly men all her life I undertook the (herculean) task of getting acquainted with as many women scientists (how I hate to use women + profession, ugh) as I could. Marie Curie was one of my first loves, too.

    And this book is gorgeous! Thanks for the review, Brona. I'm adding this to my wishlist right this moment.

    1. There's another new book called Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World which you may be interested in as well.

  5. Hi Brona! I read Marie Curie by Eve Curie - took me about two years because it started SO slowly. Once I got to the where she met Pierre, it became very enjoyable & engrossing - quite an incredible story of a woman so completely devoted to science. I'd like to read this one you have.

  6. What a beautiful book! I will be checking our library - the award sticker on the cover gives me hope of finding it.

  7. Anonymous10/2/16

    I really want to read this book, and I am glad it was everything you wanted it to be. I saw it at the library the other day; it was displayed by the computers. The librarians hadn't decided yet where its final spot would be. :)

    1. Ba ha - that tickled my fancy - thanks :-D

  8. Wow, this looks gorgeous! I'm glad you enjoyed is so much :) I'd love to learn more about Marie Curie myself.

  9. Anonymous17/2/16

    Ahhhh, I love this book! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It was the first graphic novel/graphic biography/graphic anything I'd ever read, and I was completely hooked. I haven't found anything else that fits the same niche yet.


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