Often times, a non-fiction book doesn’t succeed in grabbing your attention in a way that you don’t want to put it aside, let everything stand and lie and surf first, and read and surf again. Richard Gunderman’s work is one of those. The author describes the exciting life of physicist Marie Curie, who not only established radiochemistry with the discovery of radioactivity, but was the source of many other discoveries. Soon her work was awarded two Nobel prizes. After all, Marie Curie was the first to coin the word “radioactivity” when she wrote it in the work notebook that she and her husband kept.
Surrounded by men
The numerous black-and-white photographs of the researcher, her husband Pierre, and their shared laboratory as well as of contemporary scholars and old newspaper report prints cast a spell on her. As in her life, Marie Curie is surrounded by world class researchers on this book. She is part of this scientific elite, such as Albert Einstein, Ernst Rutherford or Henri Becquerel. Gonderman also briefly introduces their lives as well as the historical background, which includes World War I and the struggle of Poland – its home country – for independence.
Richard Gunderman is Professor of Radiology and proves his expertise in departments dealing with scientific advances at the time. He also has an interesting and understandable writing style.
The author describes a single woman who achieved the successes that made her world famous. Perseverance, thirst for knowledge, curiosity and self-confidence drive them just as much as they are driven by a great love for science. Einstein wrote that Corey was the only famous character he knew whose personal fame had not been spoiled. However, she had to voluntarily give up her second Nobel Prize if it were up to the Swedish Nobel Committee. The reason: a love affair with a married man. A storm of popular anger in France has reached as far as Sweden. Einstein encouraged her in this position: “If the rabble is more interested in you, do not read the gossip, but leave it to the reptiles for which it was made.”
Gunderman describes how enthusiastic it is to celebrate it in stark contrast to the United States. Marie “Messi” Meloni, one of the prominent journalists at the time, had raised big money for Curie’s research so that the world could buy enough radium. When Corrie’s ship arrived in New York in the spring of 1921, a large number of reporters were waiting for her there. She is welcomed by the US President to the White House, and she has ten honorary doctorates from various universities in addition to many other awards.
The author does not ignore how difficult it is for women to gain recognition in the scientific world. He regrets reporting primarily on the men in his book. But it was said at that time: A woman has no brain but sex. Thus Corrie found the remarks about sexism and demeaning in newspaper articles and texts by scholars.