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Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (Great Discoveries Series)

Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (Great Discoveries Series)

4.3 9
by Barbara Goldsmith

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The bestselling, "excellent…poignant—and scientifically lucid—portrait" (New York Times Book Review) of the remarkable Marie Curie.Through family interviews, diaries, letters, and workbooks that had been sealed for over sixty years, Barbara Goldsmith reveals the Marie Curie behind the myth—an all-too-human woman struggling to balance a


The bestselling, "excellent…poignant—and scientifically lucid—portrait" (New York Times Book Review) of the remarkable Marie Curie.Through family interviews, diaries, letters, and workbooks that had been sealed for over sixty years, Barbara Goldsmith reveals the Marie Curie behind the myth—an all-too-human woman struggling to balance a spectacular scientific career, a demanding family, the prejudice of society, and her own passionate nature. Obsessive Genius is a dazzling portrait of Curie, her amazing scientific success, and the price she paid for fame.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
“Never a dull moment…Goldsmith leads the reader through a wonderland of facts with just the right blend of science and story. In the end, the mystery of the great Madame [Curie] remains, but a deeper understanding of what she went through as a woman and a scientist shines as strong as her radium.”
starred review Booklist
“Bestselling historian Goldsmith incisively chronicles [Curie's] intensely dramatic life…Her powerful portrait reveals a woman of great passion, genius, and pain who changed the world.”
Brenda Maddox
As seen in Goldsmith's poignant -- and scientifically lucid -- portrait, she was a depressed, obsessive genius. Life itself was less important than the work. Could Marie Curie have achieved so much without the depression? Probably. Without the obsession? Probably not.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
So enduring is the reputation of Marie Curie that more than 100 years after she won her first Nobel Prize, for physics in 1903 (she won a second, for chemistry, in 1911), Curie (1867-1934) is still regarded by most as the pre-eminent woman scientist of the 20th century. Goldsmith's straightforward biography illuminates both the public Curie, a tireless scientist obsessed with work, and the private one, a woman who suffered bouts of severe depression, was distant from her children and scarred deeply by the accidental death of her scientist husband, Pierre, in 1906. Using long-sealed Curie family archives, Goldsmith offers a well-rounded view of her subject that makes good dramatic use of the considerable intrigue that surrounded Curie's scientific accomplishments and her private life. Goldsmith also reminds us, without belaboring the point, that Curie overcame obstacles, including pervasive sexism within the scientific community that almost cost her the Nobel. Goldsmith is also adept at demonstrating that for Curie the nexus of public accomplishments and private happiness was tenuous. Although Curie continued working after Pierre's death, Goldsmith says she never allowed his name to be spoken: "Never again would there be a sign of joy." Goldsmith, biographer of Gloria Vanderbilt and Victoria Woodhull, is weakest at explaining the theoretical basis for Curie's scientific breakthroughs, which set the stage for the exploration of the atom. B&w illus. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Marie Curie's ability to focus her intelligence on what she wanted to accomplish is legendary, and in this exploration of Curie's "obsessive genius" Goldsmith (Little Gloria... Happy at Last) has produced a finely detailed and well-researched biography. But she has interwoven with Curie's scientific progress the emotional and personal costs involved, from Curie's early years as a governess to the ongoing battles for sexual equality in the scientific academies of Europe. The hypocrisy of the times, particularly regarding Marie's affair with Paul Langevin (her late husband's student), is so striking that one wonders why Curie retained her incredible loyalty to France. Unlike Susan Quinn's detailed Marie Curie, which concentrates on Curie's scientific life, Goldsmith focuses on the social and economic hurdles that Curie had to overcome to manage the roles of scientist, wife, mother, and staunch French wartime ally. She also provides an excellent portrait of the age in which Marie Curie was to do so much for the world. Recommended for all libraries.-Hilary Burton, formerly with Lawrence Livermore National Lab, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Popular biographer Goldsmith (Other Powers, 1996, etc.) pens a sharp, sprightly, refreshing portrait of the brilliant, melancholic scientist, affording a sensible look into her head and into the body of her work. Forget the myths surrounding Marie Curie (1867-1934), says the author, and consider her on merits alone. Are they not wowing? First woman with a degree in physics from the Sorbonne, first female professor at the school, first woman to win not one but two Nobel Prizes, first woman to be elected to the French Academy of Medicine. In a world of vicious, institutionalized sexism, Curie was as "rare as a unicorn." Nothing came easy, notes Goldsmith. Her father drove her hard down the intellectual path. Her husband, brick though he was in other ways, left the household to her alone. She was plagued by recurrent depressions. Money problems hampered her research, and her research probably killed her. Goldsmith does her best to set right some of the discrepancies between history and myth. Curie, for instance, did not toil alone: " . . . in this journey of discovery, Marie and Pierre were equally involved . . . Pierre took over the physics . . . Marie acted essentially as a chemist." She was, however, the one who sparked the pursuit into the mysteries of radium. The author also acknowledges the tangle and messiness of her subject's life. Curie took a governess's job to put her sister through the Sorbonne. She had her home stoned after the disclosure of her affair with a married man and brushed off the tar-and-feathering to accept her second Nobel that same year. She exposed her daughter to radium, knowing its deleterious effects-chronic ill health and fingers like concrete might have beena clue. Goldsmith unconvincingly suggests an answer can be found in willfully ignorant "love" for radium: "my child," Curie called it. Opens the door on Curie as she opened the door on atomic science. (15 photos)

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Great Discoveries Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Goldsmith (1931—2016), a journalist and philanthropist, was the author of Little Gloria…Happy at Last, Obsessive Genius, Johnson v. Johnson, The Straw Man, and Other Powers.

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Obsessive Genius recounted the most significant discoveries of Marie Curie and her journey to success. Goldsmith captured the essence of self-determination, which provided evidence that women have the potential to exceed and overcome social expectations during the 1890s. Curie¡¯s life involved mainly of science as her father and her graduate studies influenced her to pursue her interests. She graduated first in her class and secured degrees in both mathematics and physics. With the help from her husband, Curie was able to discover radioactivity and then the elements radium and polonium. These discoveries presented her Noble Prizes and fame in the male-dominant society. This reflected how Curie was brave enough to challenge the traditional views of women through her intellectual abilities. She served a role model who had gone through tremendous difficulties to achieve her goals. Curie¡¯s self-reliant personality sparked new attention in women and influenced them to explore. Moreover, her findings advanced the society to focus on issues that were more global as to reduce destructions. Goldsmith presented the true value of Curie¡¯s success in that she combined the personal experiences in conjunction of Curie¡¯s science. This book exposed the secrets of great discoveries and the importance as her science evolved to serve the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've not read Ms. Goldsmith's work before but I am enchanted by her balanced, realistic, and utterly convincing portrait of a real human, a woman, an ethnic (Polish) underdog, a depressive achiever, who accomplished so much and suffered so much for it. She touched me deeply. Marie (and her family) are the paradigm of achievement and sacrifice in our contemporary world ... 19th Century ... 21st Century, no matter. The Kennedys might be an American analogue in politics ... When I was a kid, my own mother (a gentle feminist) insisted that I read Eve Curie's biogaphy of her mother, Marie, written more than 60 years ago, It was a world where the scientists, mathematicians, librarians, teachers, philosophers, humanists, took us one-and-one- half steps forward, while the politicians, warriors, lawyers and profiteers dragged us a full step backwards. Nowhere is this more odious than today, where science has been attacked and downgraded. Revealed knowledge has gained a respectibility that takes us back thousands of years into the Dark Ages. Empirical, testable, repeatable scientific knowledge is hard-won. Once validated by repeated challenge, it transports us into better times as a species. A day after reading Goldsmith's biography I still feel warring emotions and numbness. Joy at the devotion and blinding intelligence of the Curies who manifest the best in our species. Deep sadness at the persistent dismal human condition and how we in aggregate make it so much worse for each other across the globe. We are frail and we are corruptible. Worse, because we today could make it better if we only traded our swords for plowshares. Goldsmith's biography is a perfect read at Christmas- time, as we all consider our religions, our futures, the very nature of our existance, and the meaning of the Christ Child and his sacrifices. Special kudos to Goldsmith for her intelligent perusal of new documents in their original language. We owe her a great debt for scholarship and her humanity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this biography, Barbara Goldsmith delves deep beneath the myth surrounding Marie Curie and reveals her as she really was: a brilliant woman haunted by depression and prejudice. From childhood, Marie was immersed in science and a need for excellence. She attended college at the Sorbonne University in France since women were not allowed in college in Poland, and went on to be first in her class. After a somewhat reluctant marriage to Pierre Curie, Marie continued to research beyond the limits of her body. She discovered polonium and later radioactivity and radium, which she and Pierre continued studying for years. Goldsmith offers a deeper insight into to sexism which restricted Marie Curie at the time. Today she is known primarily for her discovery of radioactivity and the struggle involved is often forgotten. Goldsmith would like to enlighten the public of Marie Curie¿s astonishing battle for recognition, despite numerous slights from prejudiced authorities. She does an wonderful job with this detailed description of not only the Curies¿ discoveries, but also those going on around them and the constantly changing controversies. Few people are aware of the work that Marie Curie accomplished after Pierre died, but his death only marks the halfway point in the biography. Even less known is the assumed love affair between Marie Curie and the already married Paul Langevin, which destroyed much of Marie¿s popularity. Yet even after that so-called scandal, Marie Curie once again became famous and an outstanding role model for women around the world. Goldsmith¿s endless flow of insights into Marie¿s personal life as well as her scientific life illuminate her in a way that the science books fail to mention. Anyone looking for the whole story should read this biography or continue thinking of Marie Curie as a flat character who is only remembered today for radium. Her struggles must not be forgotten.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the perfect holiday gift. I'm sending it to people of all ages from 10 up. What a wonderful story, it's a page turner. It is hard to believe the life she led and her belief in the spirits. I always thought of her as a dull goddess but that love affair..it's a wow and it came from her hidden diary. For the first time I understood the science behind Madame Curie's accomplishments. The author is so clear. Finally, I would say this story is not just for holidays. People will be reading and enjoying it for years to come.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Obsessive Genius is an utterly fascinating portrait of a hallowed and difficult subject. If you are a fan of Goldsmith's work, (I am) you will immediately see that she is the perfect person to give Curie the complexity and dimension she deserves --as a scientist and as a woman. It's a short book which is by turns moving, informative, and intriguingly unexpected. I couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author has discovered the truth of Marie Curie's Dickensian, impoverished childhood, has read papers sealed for 60 years (some radioactive!)to get this incredible story, the truth behind the legend. Every library should have this sensational and deeply informative book and so should book clubs and anyone who wants a great read. A bestseller for sure. If there wre more than five stars that's how I'd rate it. A must read!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Through origional research the myth of Marie Curie explodes into an in-depth study of her inner world, one of torment and of glory. This book has sold in eight languages and is a selection of the Book of the Month Club,the History Book club, the Quality Paperback Book Club and the Scientific American Book Club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So boring old people