Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Reviewed by Erin
When a book is a National Book Award Finalist, I am ready to be impressed. When NPR recommends it, even more so. But when I picked up Radioactive, my heart sank a little. I felt misled—this is not the book I was waiting for.
For one thing, it is as much an art piece as a book about Marie Curie. Nothing against art, but I wanted Marie Curie with a little side of Pierre and maybe some interesting snippets from their life and work. This was them in crude drawings and photographs and Xerox copies. I had to do a double-take. What exactly had I signed up for?
The first few pages did not go well. The art made the book a challenge to read as the paragraphs often fit around the art pieces and the type was sometimes white. Sometimes there was only one sentence on a two-page spread or art pieces would be interspersed with the photographs. The story of Marie and Pierre was interrupted, often and abruptly, with little anecdotes from other keystone events in radioactivity. It felt disjointed, loose, wild, unseemly.
I fell head over heels in love anyway. This was Marie and Pierre outside of the proverbial box. I felt the great passion in their story as lovers and scientists and witnessed it in the art. Marie’s brain and heart were on display in all their magnificent beauty. In some places, the art told the story better than any words could convey. I am still haunted by the paper dolls a Hiroshima survivor used to show what her father looked like after the blast.
In the end, I learned some wonderful little tidbits about the Curies’ life and work, and I think this approach, especially with the side notes about Hiroshima and Three Mile Island and the Manhattan Project, worked. These were the straight lines that came from their work—their unintended consequences. The second part of the title then is the soul of this book. This IS a story about love and fallout. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, you now have a non-fiction book that will touch your heart AND stimulate your brain. Share it with your sweetheart. Happy Reading!