Themed Reviews

Marie Curie

   Marie Sklodowska Curie is well known for her research efforts and the discovery with her husband, Pierre Curie of radium and polonium--winning the 1903 Noble Prize for their discoveries. They shared this prize with another French physicist, Antoine Henri Bacquerel. In 1911 Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her study of radium's chemical properties as well as having isolated the radium in the first place. The main driving force in her life was the application of her knowledge for humanitarian uses. When WWI broke out she realized that X-Rays could identify shrapnel and bullets making doctor's work easier. She also realized that it was important for the wounded not to be moved; so she devised x-ray wagons and trained 150 female attendants to help the wounded. Her establishment of the Radium Institute to continue the research of radium and medical uses was a legacy that lives on in the renamed (upon her death) Curie Institute. Several wonderful biographies have been published recently, so we salute this pioneering woman of science and compassion.

Marie Curie, Physicist

   "You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful."

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Contributor: Sheilah Egan


Guinea Pig Scientists: Bold Self-Experimenters in Science and Medicine
Leslie Dendy and Mel Boring
Illustrations by C.B. Mordan
   This fascinating investigation of how, when, and why scientists have experimented on themselves deepens the reader's understanding of the passion for knowledge, and amazes with the risks that otherwise practical and knowledgeable people take. At the same time, it acknowledges the dangers of self-experimentation--disease, death, and broken bones. The individual stories, told in clear vivid language, often laced with the scientist's own words, will live on in memory as both examples and warnings. British gentlemen stayed in rooms which reached temperatures of 260' F and discovered how the body regulates its internal temperature. The Haldanes subjected themselves to breathing noxious fumes and developed early warning systems for miners and submariners. The Curies burned themselves with radium by accident, and developed a new technology of radiation to kill cancer cells. While this book does not address the ethical issues of self-experimentation, it is loaded with factual knowledge. This includes a "Now We Know" supplement to each chapter, showing how human science has been extended since the time of the experiment, an excellent selection of resources, and an explanation of how the writers chose the stories they told. Highly recommended for school libraries and budding scientists. 2005, Henry Holt, $19.95. Ages 9 to 16. Elisabeth Greenberg (Children's Literature).

   For hundreds of years, scientists have experimented on themselves, curious about how the human body works and what it can stand. The ten biographies in this intriguing collection portray men and women who swallowed inedible substances, exposed themselves to diseases, subjected themselves to intense heat and pressure, gas, radiation, and isolation, and injected probes into their hearts. The scientists described include Lazzaro Spallanzani, William Morton and Horace Wells, Marie and Pierre Curie, John Scott Haldane and Jack Haldane, John Paul Stapp, and Stefania Follini and others, working from the 1700s to nearly the present. Each chapter begins with a black-and-white portrait of the scientist(s) and ends with a section entitled "Now We Know." This highlights current understandings in the field of the self-experimenter, whether it be how the digestive system works, how much pressure the human body can stand, what happens to biological clocks when you are without outside time clues, or how diseases like yellow fever are transmitted and treated. Sidebars explain unfamiliar vocabulary and introduce others who worked in the field. The end matter includes an extensive bibliography for each subject, quotation sources, acknowledgements, credits for the black-and-white photographs that also illustrate each chapter, and a substantial index. In spite of the intriguing subject matter and proliferation of gory detail, the appearance of this book--with its black-and-white format, small type, and considerable heft--is serious. It may require some selling on the part of adults. This would be excellent supplementary reading for high school biology classes. 2005, Henry Holt and Company, $19.95. Ages 12 up. Kathleen Isaacs (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Best Books for Young Adults, 2006 ; American Library Association-YALSA-Adult Books for Young Adults Task Force; United States
   Booklist Book Review Stars , Jul. 1, 2005 ; United States
   Choices, 2006 ; Cooperative Children's Book Center; United States
   Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2006 ; National Science Teachers Association; United States
   School Library Journal Book Review Stars, July 2005 ; Cahners; United States
   Top 10 Sci-Tech Books for Youth, 2005 ; Booklist; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
   Subaru/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books Finalist 2006 Middle Grades Nonfiction Science Book United States
ISBN: 0-8050-7316-7

Manya's Dream: A Story of Marie Curie
Frieda Wishinsky
Illustrated by Jacques Lamontage
   When Tonia, a modern day Polish girl, is teased at school for being different, her mother tells her the story of another Polish girl who faced challenges. Her mother tells her about the life of Manya Sklodowska, later know as Marie Curie, the famous scientist. This picture book biography highlights Marie's childhood and her struggle to attend school because she was a woman. It also details her scientific career and work with her husband, Pierre Curie. Together they discovered radium, won the Nobel Prize, and spent many years studying together. After Pierre's death, Marie taught science at the university level, brought X-ray equipment to the World War I battlefield, and received a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This book describes the entire life of Marie Curie, and while it gives much useful information, it is a lengthy picture book. Marie Curie's important accomplishments are told in brevity in the beginning, and a timeline of important events is presented at the end. 2003, Maple Tree Press/Firefly Books, $6.95. Ages 8 to 10. Reviewer: Marcie Flinchum Atkins (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Best Books for Junior High and Young Adults, 2004; Science Books & Films
ISBN: 1-894379-53-5
ISBN: 1-894379-54-3

Marie Curie
Nick Healy
   This short book of fewer than 50 pages, half of which contain pictures, presents a personal account of the life and accomplishments of Marie Curie. The work details her childhood, her early life in Poland, and the transition to Paris, where she studied and later made her discoveries. For a woman to accomplish the success that she achieved at a time in history when men dominated the sciences was not an easy task. Her struggles, her marriage, and the untimely tragedy of her husband's death reflect the anguish she must have felt. Her scientific successes, the abysmal conditions under which she worked, and the recognition she ultimately received are presented in the context of the time in which she lived. The photographs and statements by fellow scientists add to the narrative. Shown are photographs of Marie, her sisters, her husband, and other prominent scientists of the era. The last few pages are excerpts from Marie's own writings detailing her thoughts as she arrived in Paris, her early marriage, and her studies of radioactive materials. The author presents a most personal and inspiring account of the life of Marie Curie and of her hardships, goals, and determination. She serves as an example for us all. (from the Genius Series.) Index; C.I.P. Highly Recommended, Grades 9-College, Teaching Professional, General Audience. 2005, Smart Apple Media, 48pp., $31.35. Ages 14 to 18, and adult professional. Gordon A. Parker (Science Books and Films (Vol. 42, No. 2)).
ISBN: 1-58341-332-4

Marie Curie
Liz Gogerly
   This is a multi-book review of two volumes in the "Scientists Who Made History" series. Each book in this series follows the same format. The scientist's life, contributions, and legacy are related chronologically. Short chapters are divided into two-page subsections that cover information in one double-page spread, whether a description of Curie's curiosity about the newly discovered X-rays or Galileo's 1633 trial in Rome. This layout makes it easy for readers to find and use information but also seems to artificially condense important topics. The wide range of colorful and compelling visual materials in these books proves to be one of their greatest strengths. Gogerly makes good use of archival photographs and etchings to create a record of Curie's family, working conditions, and world. Goldsmith's portrait of Galileo is even more diverse. He includes Renaissance representations of the controversial scientist, modern photographs of Pisa and other sites important to Galileo, and recent pictures of the solar system made possible only through Galileo's work with telescopes and astronomy. Both volumes have their quirks, some of which are related to the series' design. For example, the In Their Own Words feature boxes a relevant quotation beside a small drawing of the profiled scientist, but the actual quotation might not be from the scientist whose picture is shown. Instead, it often is attributed to a friend or family member. Although the source is labeled, the design of this feature is confusing. Other oddities are specific to each volume. Goldsmith's biography of Galileo, although factually accurate, at times displays overt hostility toward the Catholic Church. For example, he ends the book by saying; "Finally, 350 years after Galileo's death, his theories were publicly accepted by Pope John II, in 1992. There was no apology." Overall, these texts are sound but somewhat stolid and do little to enhance the state of nonfiction for younger readers. Although chock full of information, Goldsmith's portrait of Galileo pales when compared to Peter Sis's biography Starry Messenger (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996). Nonetheless, these texts will be useful to fourth- to sixth-grade students and helpful to less accomplished readers in the seventh through ninth grades. Additional books in the eight-volume series cover Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Louis Pasteur. Glossary. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Further Reading. Chronology. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). Megan Isaac (VOYA, August 2002 (Vol. 25, No. 3)). 2001, Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 48p. PLB, $18.98. Ages 11 to 14.
ISBN: 0-7398-4413-X

Marie Curie
Dana Meachen Rau
   This biography tells the story of a remarkable woman whose life was dedicated to science at a time when few women were involved in its pursuit. Understanding the unique contribution Marie Curie made will be hard for a young person of today to grasp, but this brief account puts it simply for the reader. The unglamorous photographs paint the reality and the significance of her struggle. Without dwelling on the sacrifices she made, her huge contribution to science and medicine is acknowledged. Bold-face print indicates difficult terms, which are defined in a glossary. A timeline of important events in Marie Curie's life and an index are helpful. Library and web site exploration is encouraged. Part of the "Compass Point Early Biographies" series. 2000, Compass Point Books, $19.93. Ages 8 to 12. Margarette Reid (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-7565-0017-6

Marie Curie
Andrew Santella
   An educator, a scientist, a wife, a mother, a Nobel Prize recipient--Marie Curie had an extraordinary life for a woman living in the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. Determined to progress beyond the constraints of a woman living in Russia-controlled Poland, Curie worked as a governess until enough money was saved for tuition at the University of Paris's Sorbonne. She began her career as a scientist after graduating in three years and becoming the first woman to receive a degree in Physics. Years of hard work with her husband and partner, Pierre, led Curie to the discovery of two radioactive elements, polonium and radium. These discoveries earned the Curies the Nobel Prize in Physics and eventually lead Marie to another Nobel Prize, making her the first ever to receive double honors. This book gives a clear and interesting picture of Curie's life. The text is clear, the authentic photographs plentiful and the chronology of events easy to follow. There is a timeline, a glossary of terms and listings of references and Internet sites at the end of the book. It is perfect for those embarking upon a research project. This is part of the "Trailblazers on the Modern World" series. 2001, World Almanac Library, $26.60. Ages 8 to 15. Andrea Sears Andrews (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-8368-5061-0

Marie Curie
Lola M. Schaefer and Wyatt Schaefer
Consulting Editor: Gail Saunders-Smith
Consultant, Spencer R. Weart
   Double Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie is the subject of this "First Biographies" title from Capstone Press. Young readers can trace Curie's life from birth to death and all of her wonderful contributions to the world of science. In addition to learning about her important scientific discovery of radium, readers get a glimpse of her personal life as we see pictures of her with her sister, her husband, and her children. While she made the discovery of radium with her husband, her accomplishments stand out in this book. A graphic timeline puts her life in perspective, and black-and-white photographs accompany the narrative in this text. The back matter consists of a glossary, references, and an Internet site so young readers can learn more about this pioneer in science. In terms of curriculum studies, this book is ideal for biographies, women's studies, and science. 2005, Capstone Press, $15.93. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Patricia Silverberg (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-7368-2084-1

Marie Curie: A Brilliant Life
Elizabeth MacLeod
   Well researched, attractively presented and easily read would be how to describe this work on perhaps the most famous woman scientist of all time. Marie Curie is presented as a real, practical, normal woman in nineteenth-century Europe. Unfortunately, for many in that era, situations occur that disrupted home life and Curie was no exception. By the age of 8, she had lost her mother and oldest sister to illness, and her father had suffered financial losses. In spite of these setbacks, Curie excelled in her educational pursuits, even attending the prestigious Sorbonne and becoming the first woman to earn a degree in physics from that institution. Hers truly is a life that encourages women, or anyone else. She overcame financial hardships, personal tragedies and misunderstandings to succeed on an international level leaving a great legacy that impacted the future of science. Throughout her accomplishments and achievements the consistent message is one of patience, persistence, hope and never giving up. This work is creatively formatted with text on one page, photographs and illustrations on the facing page--providing visual as well as textual information. Following the text is a comprehensive timeline of Curie's life and information about visiting museums relevant to her work. This is an excellent example of a biography as well as a scientific text. 2004, Kids Can Press, $14.95 and $6.95. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Elizabeth Young (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Best Books for Junior High and Young Adults, 2004; Science Books & Films
   Best Children's Books of the Year, 2004; Bank Street College of Education; United States
   Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005; H.W. Wilson; United States
   Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2004; National Science Teachers Association/CBC; United States
ISBN: 1-55337-570-X
ISBN: 1-55337-571-8

Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie
Barbara Goldsmith
   The life of Marie Curie, two-time Nobel prize laureate, has been detailed so extensively in various biographies and in her own autobiography that it is difficult to uncover new aspects or secrets associated with that eminent scientist. The author of this new biography claims to dispel certain myths about Curie's life and work. The book focuses primarily on Curie's indefatigable pursuit of discoveries in radioactivity and of recognition and support in the scientific community. While chronicling Curie's life and achievements, the author weaves in the social context of the time, which helps the reader understand the sexism and other obstacles Curie had to overcome. The reader who is not versed in science may find the culture of small circles, intense competition, and even hostility and jealousy among elite scientists particularly fascinating. The author adopts a matter-of-fact style in laying out the facts and events, with few commentaries. This restraint is one of the book's strengths; it helps paint a clear, honest, and human portrait of Curie. Although the author implies at places that Marie Curie's devotion to her research affected her relationship with her daughters, the fact that both Irene and Eve Curie led full and meaningful lives and maintained a deep affection for their mother speaks to Marie's success in raising her children. Madame Curie's demand for full (and deserved) credit for her achievements is also candidly described. None of these "revelations" diminishes her image as a devoted scientist and humanitarian, for nothing she did was motivated by personal gain. The book is a credible and insightful account of Marie Curie's life and work, as well as a recounting of part of the history of nuclear science. C.I.P. Recommended, General Audience. 2004, Norton, 256pp., $23.95. Ages Adult. Jun Yan (Science Books and Films (Vol. 41, No. 3)).
ISBN: 0-393-05137-4

Radiation and Modern Life: Fulfilling Marie Curie's Dream
Alan E. Waltar
Introduction by Helene Langevin-Joliot
   In Radiation and Modern Life, Alan Waltar, director of nuclear energy for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and past president of the American Nuclear Society, has written an interesting and valuable work that takes the reader from the discovery of nuclear radiation by Pierre and Marie Curie at the turn of the 20th century to the many uses of radiation at the present time. The author clearly defines the term radiation and describes the range of radiation, from the lowest energy radio waves through microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, X-ray, gamma-ray and the highest-energy cosmic radiation. He also describes the source of nuclear radiation and correctly points out that radiation has existed as long as the universe has and that living organisms evolved exposed to various kinds of radiation. In subsequent chapters, the various ways that radiation is used, ranging from medical procedures to the preservation of food, are discussed. Possible future uses are also considered. All is written in nontechnical, easily understood language. Appended are tables of the radioisotopes used for medical and other purposes and the economic impact of applications of nuclear technology on the U.S. economy. Also included are a glossary of technical terms and references for further reading. An introduction by Dr. Hélène Langevin-Joliot, Marie Curie's nuclear physicist granddaughter, tells numerous interesting stories about her remarkable family, which includes five Nobel laureates involved in research on radioactivity and nuclear science. Especially apropos to the love-hate relationship of today's society toward technology in general and nuclear technology in particular is a quote from Pierre Curie's Nobel lecture: "One can imagine that in criminal hands, radium could become very dangerous, and here one must ask oneself if humanity gains anything by learning the secret of nature, if humanity is ready to profit from this or whether such knowledge may not be destructive for it. I am one who thinks like Alfred Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries." Glossary; Index; C.I.P. Highly Recommended, General Audience. 2004, Prometheus, 336pp., $28.00. Ages Adult. Clarence J. Murphy (Science Books and Films (Vol. 41, No. 3)).
ISBN: 1-5910-2250-9

Something out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium
Carla Killough McClafferty
   From the author of The Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone (McClafferty's titles certainly pack a punch) comes a biography of Manya Sklodowska, known to the world as Marie Curie. Her story is traced chronologically, from her humble beginnings in Russian-occupied Poland, to her death from overexposure to radium. The focus on the historic scientific work of Marie and her husband Pierre is combined with the very human struggles of a life spun out in a time of great change. The early years, Marie's struggle to get an education, her marriage to and work with Pierre, the immersion in the laboratory, the notoriety that followed the Nobel prize--the author conveys the events of Marie Curie's life in a way that goes beyond its chronology. Almost as interesting is the deconstruction of the Curie legacy. McClafferty weaves the story of how radium changed the lives of the couple in ways both glorious and tragic. The passion with which the element was greeted seemed symptomatic of a society greedy for the magic seemingly wrought by science. Additionally, Curie is revealed as an all too human figure. She raised children whom others perceived as rude, and was undemonstrative in the extreme. Backmattter includes detailed chapter source notes, a bibliography, a list of recommended web sites, and an index. This is a carefully constructed biography, offering young readers both information and context. 2006, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 12up, $18.00. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-374-38036-8

The Top Ten Inventors
Gerry Bailey
Illustrated by Steve Boulter and Jan Smith.
   "Who improved the steam engine?" Questions like this serve to introduce the author's pick of all-time great inventors in the quirky "Crafty Inventions" series (originally from Britain). Chances are that American kids will not think of Richard Trevithick, but the other nine are well-known, although Marie Curie did not invent radium--she discovered it--and was recognized as a chemist and physicist. After three pages each on such famed inventors as da Vinci, Gutenberg, Edison, Marconi, and the Wright brothers, a related craft project is introduced with a list of materials and illustrated directions. Except for a tiny battery-powered engine related to the work of Michael Faraday, projects in this title are non-working models, more art than science. It is hard to see how making a spooky skull mask can shed much light on how X-rays work, or how a crazy "big mouth" megaphone can explain the telephone. Cartoonlike illustrations of the inventors at work are amusing and attention getting, giving interested readers some idea of the inspiration and hard work that lead to significant achievement. Each title contains an extensive glossary and a warning that an adult may need to supervise the use of certain tools or materials. For those who love to tinker and like to know how things work, the series can definitely inspire more research into the results of human ingenuity and into the lives of some great and influential thinkers who have produced milestone technology we often take for granted. 2005, Picture Window, $26.60. Ages 9 to 13. Barbara L. Talcroft (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 1-4048-1046-3

Turn It Loose: The Scientist in Absolutely Everybody
Diane Swanson
Illustrations by Warren Clark
   From the glow-in-the-dark cover to the playful, colorful illustrations of children discovering all kinds of mysteries, this book is an inspirational winner. This is less of a book about science and more of an introductory challenge to scientific thinking and staying open to the world around you. Diane Swanson offers an eye catching presentation. Numerous vignettes are colorfully written about the childhood explorations of scientists such as Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and others whose names are less well known. People like Beatrix Potter are presented as ever-exploring children, one who used her early analysis of animals and plants to help her paint pictures, providing an example of how science contributes to all kinds of talents. Each chapter contains a substantial section called "Brainplay," which provides fun tests and experiments to try and games to play with others. There is a list of resources for further exploration, including books, magazines, videos and Internet sites. An index is included. This attractive book promotes the inborn scientist in each of us, "whatever or whoever you are, you are also a scientist," with an emphasis on individuality in thinking. A motivating book for children and a recommended library addition. 2004, Annick Press, $29.95 and $16.95. Ages 8 up. Elaine Wick (Children's Literature)
ISBN: 1-5503-7851-1
ISBN: 1-5503-7850-3

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Added 4/24/06


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