Friday, March 4, 2011

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

So I read the rave review of this book in the Times Book Review. And then in the New Yorker. And saw a subsequent ad in the New Yorker. But I was highly skeptical- pay for a hardcover graphic biography? I had a Radcliffe Series biography of Curie- did I really need another? Then I had a meeting about a musical I’ve been working on, and the lyricist suggested that one character may want to identify more closely with one mentor, and that Mme. Curie fit the bill. Matthew Love’s lead review in TimeOutNY that week was of Radioactive. So I went to the Stand and got one for myself.

Lauren Redniss has mapped out quite an ambitious undertaking for herself in the making of this book- text, illustrations and photographs working together. She was a Cullman Scholar at the New York Public Library while she wrote it, and there is an exhibit at the Library of her work. There’s also a very cool website that Redness designed with her Parsons School of Design students: The book is not only the Curies’ story, but examines some of the ramifications of their work. Redniss is judicious in her choice of non-biographical material; it had the potential to spin out of control, but she reins it in. She also exploits the fact that has always had resonance for me: the more Mme. Curie worked in her laboratory (M. Curie was killed by an errant wagon in 1906), the more she sowed the seeds of her own death from the poisons she was working with.

The book itself is beautiful- the endpapers look like early Rothkos. I have never seen color saturated in something printed (as opposed to photographed or painted) to quite that degree. It was too beautiful to annotate- I had to take my notes in longhand.

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