Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium


Marie Curie's story has fascinated and inspired young readers decades. The poor Polish girl who worked eight years to be able to afford to attend the Sorbonne in Paris became one of the most important scientists of her day, winning not one but two

Nobel Prizes. Her life is a fascinating one, filled with hard work,

humanitarianism, and tragedy. Her work with her husband,

Pierre - the study of radioactivity and ...

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Marie Curie's story has fascinated and inspired young readers decades. The poor Polish girl who worked eight years to be able to afford to attend the Sorbonne in Paris became one of the most important scientists of her day, winning not one but two

Nobel Prizes. Her life is a fascinating one, filled with hard work,

humanitarianism, and tragedy. Her work with her husband,

Pierre - the study of radioactivity and the discovery of the elements radium and polonium - changed science forever. But she is less well known for her selfless efforts during World War to establish mobile X-ray units so that wounded French soldiers could get better care faster. When she stood to profit greatly from her scientific work, she chose not to, making her methods and findings known and available to all of science. As a result,

this famous woman spent most of her life in need of money,

often to buy the very elements she discovered.

Marie Curie's life and work are given a fresh telling, one that also explores the larger picture of the effects of radium in world culture, and its exploitation and sad misuse.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Biographer Carla Killough McClafferty takes a fresh look at Marie Curie, who with two Nobel prizes, might well be called the mother of female scientists. Something Out of Nothing takes young readers into the life and lab of Curie as she discovers the elements radium and polonium. Science was a family affair for the Curies. Marie's partner and staunch supporter until his tragic death was husband Pierre; and her scientist daughter, Irene, also won a Nobel. As the biography makes clear, Curie shrank from fame and was happiest working in her lab or spending time with immediate family. The book is rich in primary source material (period photos, copies of pages of her lab notebooks and excerpts from personal letters) and in details fascinating to kids. Young people will relish learning what happened in 1921 when Curie arrived in the United States to accept the gift of a gram of radium. So many people shook her hand that her arm was injured and had to be protected by a sling!
At a time when most women did not even attend college, Marie Curie was a working scientist who discovered two elements, pioneered the science of radioactivity, and won the Nobel prize-twice. One of a crop of recent biographies of Marie Curie, McClafferty's offering presents Curie's life in terms of overcoming obstacles: the struggle to get an education, the loss of her beloved husband, the pressure to finance her scientific work, and her quiet resistance to the prejudices of the time. McClafferty weaves in the story of radium, which provides as much dramatic tension as the biography itself. Readers will wince at the Curies' constant casual handling of the radioactive substance. Even more haunting is the image of watch-dial factory girls licking their brushes dipped in radium paint. Despite increasing evidence, Marie Curie was slow to attribute her family's health problems to radium. Even when her institute finally adopted safety measures, she ignored them, perhaps reluctant to admit that the source of her success was killing her. McClafferty's simple writing style makes the science easy to understand while still conveying the excitement underlying Curie's work. Although some pictures are of poor quality, many are fascinating relics of the times: advertisements for medicines and household products blindly proclaiming the benefits of radium. With a somewhat dull cover, librarians will need to push this book, but teens will find it an appealing choice for science and biography projects as well as recreational reading. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Farrar Straus Giroux, 144p.; Index. Photos. Biblio. Source Notes., $18. Ages 11 to 18.
—Tracy Piombo
Children's Literature
From the author of The Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone (McClafferty's titles certainly pack a punch) comes a biography of Manya Sklodowska, known to the world as Marie Curie. Her story is traced chronologically from her humble beginnings in Russian-occupied Poland, to her death from overexposure to radium. The focus on the historic scientific work of Marie and her husband Pierre is combined with the very human struggles of a life spun out in a time of great change. The early years, Marie's struggle to get an education, her marriage to and work with Pierre, the immersion in the laboratory, the notoriety that followed the Nobel prize—the author conveys the events of Marie Curie's life in a way that goes beyond its chronology. Almost as interesting is the deconstruction of the Curie legacy. McClafferty weaves the story of how radium changed the lives of the couple in ways both glorious and tragic. The passion with which the element was greeted seemed symptomatic of a society greedy for the magic seemingly wrought by science. Additionally, Curie is revealed as an all too human figure. She raised children whom others perceived as rude, and was undemonstrative to the extreme. Back matter includes detailed chapter source notes, a bibliography, a list of recommended web sites, and an index. This is a carefully constructed biography, offering young readers both information and context. 2006, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 12 up.
—Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-The author of The Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-Ray (Farrar, 2001) takes on a related topic with equal success in this profile of the driven scientist most closely associated with the discovery of radium. Born Manya Sklodowska and educated in her native Poland at a "Floating University" that operated in defiance of harsh Russian policies, Curie moved to Paris to continue her studies. There, both before and after the tragic death of her beloved, kindred spirit Pierre, she dedicated her life to pure research and enlisted her father-in-law to care for her children. She never took out patents, so even as she was rising to international fame, entrepreneurs worldwide began trumpeting wild claims for the healing benefits of radioactive products. McClafferty chronicles both that fad-and its dismal outcome, as the effects of long-term radiation poisoning slowly became horribly apparent. Noting that Curie maintained lifelong ties with her native land and also did significant medical work in WWI, the author follows her career to its final, illness-ridden days, then ends with an apt summation of her legacy. Archival photos and substantial multimedia resource lists enhance an engrossing study of a great scientist who tried to turn away from the world and ended up changing it profoundly.-John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An able biography tells, as the subtitle suggests, the stories of both Marie Curie and her famous discovery. After a precis of Curie's childhood that relies a little too much on daughter Eve's hagiography, the narrative settles, in measured fashion, on the great scientist's pioneering work, first with husband Pierre and then without. Liberal use of primary source material gives readers a terrific sense of Curie's state of mind as she worked and loved, archival illustrations taking them into the Curies' lab and notebooks. Later chapters intersperse the account of Curie's life with the meteoric rise and fall of the fortunes of radium, her most famous discovery, drawing heavily on both contemporary news coverage and advertising to demonstrate the near total embrace of radium as a cure-all. Accounts of groundbreaking radiation therapy give way to the travails of the "Radium Girls"-women whose repeated exposure to radium in the paint they used for glow-in-the-dark watches proved fatal. There are many biographies of Curie; this one stands out in its shared focus on her discovery and its legacy. (notes, bibliography, web sites, index) (Biography. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374371227
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/21/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 276,683
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

CARLA KILLOUGH MCCLAFFERTY is also the author of The

Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky, and

Wonderful X-Ray, an NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade

Book for Children. She lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

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