Thursday, December 11, 2014

Marie Curie and Her Daughters, Shelley Emling

Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science’s First Family

Shelley Emling

Category: Nonfiction: Biography; Science

Synopsis: The biographies of physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie, and her daughters, Irene and Eve.

Date finished: 20 September 2014

Rating: ***

This book. This book. THIS BOOK! Oh book, you could have been so great in another writer’s hands.

This book made me SUFFER. Suf-fer. The research was well-done and thorough, but the writing was terrible. There was so much repetition, so much clumsy language, so many bad transitions. And it’s so too bad, because Madame Curie, and both of her daughters, deserve better.

I read Madame Curie in high school and credit it with turning me on to biographies. That book changed my life in so many ways. I’ve felt a reverence for Marie Curie (and the well-turned biography) ever since. The things this woman accomplished in her time, in a male-dominated field, are astonishing. She won not one but two Nobel Prizes, the only person to this day to win two science Nobels in two subjects (physics and chemistry). She discovered two elements, radium and polonium. She was the first female professor at Sorbonne. And the world’s first treatment of tumors with radiation was done under her direction.

But I had no idea that her daughters, too, were just as accomplished. Elder daughter, Irene, married a physicist and, having discovered artificial radioactive isotopes, they won a joint Nobel Prize. Their discoveries were used to help solve the problem of how to release energy from the atom, one of the greatest and most horrific scientific discoveries of modern time.

Younger daughter Eve wrote one of the best-selling biographies ever written (Madame Curie) in 1937. She won the National Book Award. Eve’s husband was ambassador to Greece and then the executive director of UNICEF where he accepted a Nobel Prize for the organization. Eve was the only member of her family to not receive a Nobel. Her mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, and husband all accepted the prestigious prize.

See? The information in the book is wonderfully fascinating.

But is the book worth its tortured prose? I guess that depends on your tolerance for subpar writing. The information is top notch, how it’s laid out is deeply flawed.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
If you can get past any prejudice you have about books being well-researched and well-written, go for it. I learned so much.

You might also enjoy:
Madame Curie


  1. Oh no. How sad that such fascinating personalities did not get due justice in this book. Reading your review reminds me that I should pick up Madame Curie myself, and possibly also share this book with my daughter.

  2. Yeah, I think I want to re-read it, too. Haven't read it for 20 years!