Monday, July 17, 2017

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie - A Tale of Love and Fallout

Lauren Redniss
Lauren Redniss' Radioactive:  Marie & Pierre Curie - A Tale of Love and Fallout is a beautiful book.  It is beautiful because of the amazingly subtle artwork that implies more than it compels, because of the process used to create that artwork, because of the typeface the author created herself based on manuscripts she saw at the New York Public Library, because of the archives and research Redniss delved into and included in the book to make it both very informative and intensely personal.

Redniss' book is different than many other graphic novels.  It's not structured in panels, but in full page illustrations, sometimes accompanied by dense, descriptive text.  It includes many types of artwork, from cyanotype printing (used to achieve a look similar to a radioactive glow), photos, grave rubbings, sketches, and more.  There is a Chernobyl Situational Map and photos of mutant flowers.  It's absolutely stunning.

Radioactive is described as the story of Marie & Pierre Curie, but that's more of a starting point than the arc of the whole story.  Pierre & Marie Curie's partnership was hugely productive, but Marie lived a full life after her husband's untimely death (including earning herself a second Nobel Prize).  She raised seriously amazing scientist children and inspired other scientists and changed the world.

She slept with a bottle of lightly glowing radium next to her bed.  Her clothes and skin glowed.  She had an affair with her husband's former student.  She won two Nobel Prizes.  During World War I, she made France mobile X-labs.  She died a slow, painful death due to radiation exposure, working to the last as she described her "crisis and pus."

Redniss used Marie Curie's life as the centerpoint of her web, but she goes well beyond the lives of the Curies to describe just how much her work has inspired and influenced other people and how much it has impacted the world.  Her work helped develop chemotherapy, treatment still used by cancer treatments today.  Conversely, it led to significant work on the development of the atomic bomb.  Many people in the world became ill or died due to their work with radium; others were inspired by it to study science.

I admit that sometimes this book could be hard for me to follow, and sometimes I had difficulty finding the thread between the Curie storyline and others.  But I really, really enjoyed this book.  The artwork is stunning, almost hypnotic.  Curie's life is fascinating, her work ground-breaking.  And it was so inspiring to read about all these truly amazing women.


  1. I'd heard about this one awhile ago, but never really gave much thought to reading it. However, your post makes me think I'd really enjoy it. Plus, I'm enjoying graphic novels more now than I used to :) Thanks!!

  2. I just came across this one again in my book stacks and was thinking about rereading. Maybe this fall. I just finished a Tesla biography and I'm in a sciency mood.

  3. Would never have thought of Marie Curie's biography appearing in graphic novel form. Am still struggling with graphic novels, so this might be just the read to inspire me to get into them more. Interesting post.

  4. God, Marie Curie was so cool. This author wrote a book about THE WEATHER recently and it was super great too, although a bit dense with text. Otherwise awesome. I love her and I want her to write twelve more books.


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