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Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (2005)

by Barbara Goldsmith

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4821151,009 (3.77)10
Draws on diaries, letters, and family interviews to discuss the lesser-known achievements and scientific insights of the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, documenting how she was compromised by the prejudices of a male-dominated society.
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Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith purports to tell the real story behind the mythical woman. Goldsmith was able to access new materials including Curie's letters and other papers, many of which had been sequestered because they were radioactive. She also interviewed family members and friends. The portrait she paints is not at all flattering but perhaps not surprising. In a world where women were not welcome in the scientific world, she created a space for herself that she managed to keep even after Pierre died. But she did so, Goldsmith suggests, at the expense of her children, especially her youngest, Eve, who did not have the scientific inclinations of her older sister Irene.

I read a few Amazon reviews and agree with one reviewer: Goldsmith seems sympathetic to her subject at the beginning as she describes her childhood and her battle with depression. But, as the biography unfolds, she seems to like her subject less and less and that attitude may color the later stages of the book as she delves into Curie's private life beyond the laboratory.

I read this for the CATWoman July book: women in science. It had been sitting on the shelf for awhile and for someone who had little or no knowledge about Curie beyond what Goldsmith would call the myth, it was an introduction and an easy read. I don't think I need to explore Curie any further and can only half-heartedly recommend the book.
  witchyrichy | Jul 15, 2022 |
Just what I wanted to know about Curie, this is a quick and clear study of the woman at the heart of her own mythology. Worth it for the description of her daughters alone. ( )
  Eoin | Jun 3, 2019 |
I learned a lot. Well written bio ( )
  ISCCSandy | Apr 9, 2019 |
I learned a lot. Well written bio ( )
  ISCCSandy | Apr 9, 2019 |
Starts off well, but author Barbara Goldsmith quickly gets in over her head. This is one of a series on great scientific discoveries; the editors made an idiosyncratic choice of Goldsmith, a best-selling and well regarded biographer but with no discernible scientific background, to do a life of Marie Curie. The result tells a lot about Marie Curie as a person, but it could have just as easily been about a great artist or a great writer overcoming adversity rather than a great scientist doing the same. Goldsmith spends a lot of time telling us how rough Curie’s early life was – and it was – and how much prejudice there was against her as woman – and there was – but not enough about what she did. Thus we get the trials of growing up in Russian-dominated Poland, living in a garret in Paris while attending the Sorbonne, working in a laboratory not much better than a cow barn, grudgingly bestowed awards, loss of the love of her life, difficulties with the establishment, alienation from her children, and unpleasant death from the side of effects of her work. And, oh yeah, that radium stuff.


Even when there is some scientific detail, it’s not all that appropriate. There’s a discussion – including a line drawing – of a Curie electrometer, but the main emphasis is on how difficult it was to operate, as if Marie Curie’s principal genius was manual dexterity. (I will mention one thing that really impressed me – Marie Curie may be the only person who ever saw, or who ever will see, radium. Not a radium compound or a radium spectroscopic line, but actual radium metal – she prepared a miniscule sample apparently just to show that she could. Magnificent).


Don’t get me wrong; Marie Curie wins the race for greatest scientist with the roughest life in a walk. But I fear the message here is wrong – it’s if you want to be a scientist you’ll have to overcome prejudice against you race or gender or ethnicity, you’ll have to deal with disrespect from the public and your peers and the Establishment, and you’ll risk alienating your family and friends. What the message should be is that if you want to be a scientist it will be so fascinating you won’t even notice the other stuff. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 16, 2017 |
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Best-selling author Barbara Goldsmith brings us an inspiring biography of Marie Curie, exploring the real woman behind the scientist whose discoveries changed our world.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Goldsmithprimary authorall editionscalculated
Szmołda, JarosławTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Paris, April 20, 1995: the white carpet stretched block after block down the rue Soufflot ending in front of the Panthéon, which was draped in tricolor banners that extended from the dome to the pavement.
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One of only twenty-three women among almost two thousand students enrolled in the School of Sciences, she made no comment on this disparity but noted only that she was being taught by such illustrious professors as Paul Appell, who was to become the dean of that institution and Gabriel Lippmann, who in 1908 would win a Nobel Prize for developing color photography.
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Draws on diaries, letters, and family interviews to discuss the lesser-known achievements and scientific insights of the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, documenting how she was compromised by the prejudices of a male-dominated society.

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