Reviewed by Kenneth King
When asked to name a famous female scientist, most individuals would likely name Marie Curie. This biography helps to take some of the mystery away from the woman and place her more accurately among the pantheon of significant scientists of the past 100 years. Marie Curie: Courageous Pioneer in the Study of Radioactivity traces this scientist’s life from Warsaw, Poland, during the last third of the nineteenth century to her successes in Paris in the 1890s. We learn of her personal dedication and sacrifice in her experiences in the illegal "floating universities" of Warsaw, the challenges of earning a doctorate, and her ground-breaking role as the first woman academic appointee at the Sorbonne.
This book is most appropriate for middle-level students. The simple and direct text uses experiences from Marie Curie’s personal and professional life to impress upon the reader the importance of what she discovered as well as the significance of her gender. Marie Curie’s importance as role model for females is a strong element of the narrative. Tenacity is a habit of mind that can be reinforced through this reading.
This book can be the impetus for discussing a number of science-technology-society issues. Curie’s early death from exposure to radiation (as well as the deaths of a number of hospital workers) illustrates how technological change can have unintended outcomes despite the appearance of "progress." The use of biographies can also be useful for looking at science in a broader context by examining how scientific principles can be applied to technological problems and challenges and how those technologies have influenced our lives.
For the author, composing a complete picture of a subject's life within 60 pages can be a challenge. There are some minor inconsistencies in dates noted in the book, particularly related to Curie’s time as a governess and the transition to her status as a student, but these appear to be minor editorial glitches that do not substantially affect the telling of Curie's life story.
Review posted on 5/15/2001