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Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (Great Discoveries)by Barbara Goldsmith
Synopses & Reviews
Best-selling author Barbara Goldsmith on the myth and reality behind the extraordinary "Madame Curie."
The myth of Marie Curie — the penniless Polish immigrant who, through genius and obsessive persistence, endured years of toil and deprivation to produce radium, a luminous panacea for all the world's ills including cancer — has obscured the remarkable truth behind her discoveries. Curie's shrewd though controversial insight was that radioactivity was an atomic property that could be used to discover new elements. While her work won her two Nobel Prizes and transformed our world, it did not liberate her from the prejudices of either the male-dominated scientific community or society. Here is an all-too-human woman trying to balance science, love, and the family values that constitute her legacy.
Using original research (diaries, letters, and family interviews) to peel away the layers of myth and reveal the woman behind the icon, the acclaimed author and historian Barbara Goldsmith offers a dazzling portrait of Curie, her amazing discoveries, and the price she paid for fame. 15 photographs.
"So enduring is the reputation of Marie Curie that more than 100 years after she won her first Nobel Prize, for physics in 1903 (she won a second, for chemistry, in 1911), Curie (18671934) is still regarded by most as the pre-eminent woman scientist of the 20th century. Goldsmith's straightforward biography illuminates both the public Curie, a tireless scientist obsessed with work, and the private one, a woman who suffered bouts of severe depression, was distant from her children and scarred deeply by the accidental death of her scientist husband, Pierre, in 1906. Using long-sealed Curie family archives, Goldsmith offers a well-rounded view of her subject that makes good dramatic use of the considerable intrigue that surrounded Curie's scientific accomplishments and her private life. Goldsmith also reminds us, without belaboring the point, that Curie overcame obstacles, including pervasive sexism within the scientific community that almost cost her the Nobel. Goldsmith is also adept at demonstrating that for Curie the nexus of public accomplishments and private happiness was tenuous. Although Curie continued working after Pierre's death, Goldsmith says she never allowed his name to be spoken: 'Never again would there be a sign of joy.' Goldsmith, biographer of Gloria Vanderbilt and Victoria Woodhull, is weakest at explaining the theoretical basis for Curie's scientific breakthroughs, which set the stage for the exploration of the atom. B&w illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] sharp, sprightly, refreshing portrait of the brilliant, melancholic scientist....Opens the door on Curie as she opened the door on atomic science." Kirkus Reviews
"One of the strengths of Obsessive Genius, Barbara Goldsmith's excellent short biography of Marie Curie, is its suppression of anger. Goldsmith...tells the remarkable story of the first woman to win a Nobel Prize without anachronistic editorializing." The New York Times Book Review
"Goldsmith leads the reader through a wonderland of facts with just the right blend of science and story. In the end, the mystery of the great Madame remains, but a deeper understanding of what she went through as a woman and a scientist shines as strong as her radium." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] finely detailed and well-researched biography....[Goldsmith] provides an excellent portrait of the age in which Marie Curie was to do so much for the world. Recommended." Library Journal
"An uncommonly heartfelt and empathic profile of a scientific hero." Tim Ferris, author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way and Seeing in the Dark
"History has treated Marie Curie as a mysterious genius, as if she sprang full-blown from the head of Zeus — or perhaps her husband. Barbara Goldsmith gives us a flesh-and-blood woman whose life and work will inspire our own. Marie Curie was the brilliant discoverer of radium and the radioactivity crucial to modern science. Barbara Goldsmith is the brilliant discoverer of Marie Curie." Gloria Steinem
"Barbara Goldsmith has done the near impossible in Obsessive Genius, her remarkably moving and surprising biography of Madame Curie. She never loses the Luddite reader like me in a hopeless morass of scientific details. Instead, she makes the scientific information sparkle with the same clarity that matches her telling the accomplishments and strange celebrity of the woman who founded the modern science of radioactivity. This is a book to buy for yourself and then buy ten more copies to give as presents to grateful friends." John Guare
"Barbara Goldsmith has written a superb study of a fascinating and historically important woman whose life is a great deal more interesting than the myth it inspired. Obsessive Genius is an obsessive read." Gay Talese
"Great lives in science are all about passion and curiosity. Marie Curie, the Polish-born discoverer of radium, had both in grand measure. But down the road that she helped open lay nuclear energy, which meant atomic bombs, which put Curie center stage during one of the great turning points in human history. Barbara Goldsmith has uniquely captured the woman and her science." Thomas Powers, author of Heisenberg's War
"Obsessive Genius vividly portrays the powerful personal story of privation, sacrifice, triumph and reward of one of the greatest scientists of the Twentieth Century, Marie Curie. It is a fast-paced exciting tale of scientific adventure that I read in one sitting. Barbara Goldsmith makes an important addition to her growing body of work on the life and accomplishments of women who have shaped our history and our lives." William A. Haseltine, Ph.D., Chairman and CEO, Human Genome Sciences, Inc.
Book News Annotation:
Goldsmith looks at the woman behind the icon of scientific discovery, and shows Curie (1867-1934) trying to balance a spectacular scientific career with the obligations of family, the prejudice of society, the constant search for adequate funding, and the battle for recognition. She draws on diaries, letters, and family interviews.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Using original research — diaries, letters, and family interviews — to peel away the layers of myth and reveal the woman behind the icon, acclaimed author and historian Goldsmith offers a dazzling portrait of Marie Curie, her amazing discoveries, and the price she paid for fame.
About the Author
Barbara Goldsmith is the author of Little Gloria...Happy at Last, Johnson v. Johnson, and Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull. She lives in New York City.
Great Discoveries brings together renowned writers from diverse backgrounds to tell the stories of crucial scientific breakthroughs — the great discoveries that have gone on to transform our view of the world.
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