Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science's First Family
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Published to widespread acclaim, in Marie Curie and Her Daughters, science writer Shelley Emling shows that far from a shy introvert toiling away in her laboratory, the famed scientist and two-time Nobel prize winner was nothing short of an iconoclast. Emling draws on personal letters released by Curie's only granddaughter to show how Marie influenced her daughters yet let them blaze their own paths: Irene followed her mother's footsteps into science and was instrumental in the discovery of nuclear fission; Eve traveled the world as a foreign correspondent and then moved on to humanitarian missions. Emling also shows how Curie, following World War I, turned to America for help. Few people know about Curie's close friendship with American journalist Missy Meloney, who arranged speaking tours across the country for Marie, Eve, and Irene. Months on the road, charming audiences both large and small, endeared the Curies to American women and established a lifelong relationship with the United States that formed one of the strongest connections of Marie's life. Factually rich, personal, and original, this is an engrossing story about the most famous woman in science that rips the cover off the myth and reveals the real person, friend, and mother behind it.
could damage the tissue of living organisms—a discovery that was soon tested and put to use against cancer and other illnesses—was vitally important for the medical community. The Curies intentionally decided not to patent the process to extract and purify radium, but it wasn’t surprising that others soon began seeking to cash in on the element’s perceived benefits. For example, after a radium-bearing ore called carnotite was discovered in Colorado, extraction plants sprang up in or near Denver,
manpower to access the radium that was necessary to perform any new experiments. Her own country, suffering from serious coal and food shortages after the war, was in no position to channel a large amount of money into scientific research. A lack of office staff meant Marie was forced to reply to a nonstop flow of mail herself. There was no way she would ever be able to achieve her dream of transforming her Radium Institute into a world-class facility. Even the one gram Marie possessed had been
in the body of the story. “Radium is a positive cure for cancer,” the New York Times reporter quoted Marie as saying. “It has already cured all kinds of cancers, even deep-rooted cases. . . . Those [doctors] who have failed do not understand the methods.” Exactly what Marie had said has never been made clear, but she had never before made the claim that she could cure all cancers. If anything, the scientist with no formal medical training had always tried to emphasize that radium might not be an
Frédéric and Irene were very much like Pierre and Marie. The Curie women enjoyed focusing more on chemistry while Pierre and Frédéric preferred physics. Like Marie, Irene took her time processing ideas while Frédéric was quicker on his feet. When writing of Frédéric to her friend Angèle Pompéï, Irene said that: “We have many opinions in common on essential questions.” Irene and Frédéric’s daughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot, talked about her parents’ disparate personalities. “My mother was rather
United States does not help the democracies, at least by selling arms, it will be a crime against our common civilization.” Although the United States had not yet entered the war in 1940, the American ambassador was extremely active in France. Probably with the encouragement of Meloney and Eve, he made overtures to Irene and Frédéric, offering them the ability to relocate to America. The ambassador had already helped the Curie family’s good friend, scientist Jean Perrin, flee to the United