An intimate portrait of the professional and private lives of legendary scientist Marie Curie and her daughters, Irène and Eve.
Journalist Emling (The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World, 2009, etc.) opens with Marie receiving her second Nobel Prize a few years after the death of husband, Pierre, with whom she shared her first Nobel. While many Curie biographies pay scant attention to this last quarter-century of her life, Emling explores the later years of “the woman, mother, and friend behind the pioneering scientist,” bolstered by the Curie family’s personal letters, given to the author by Curie’s granddaughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot. Emling describes Curie’s life trying to balance the demands of her scientific research with the needs of her two daughters. At the time of her second Nobel, Curie’s career was nearly derailed when news emerged of an affair between her and a married former student, physicist Paul Langevin. Although the scandal died down eventually, Curie would remain wary of journalists for the rest of her life, save one: American magazine editor and socialite Marie “Missy” Meloney, who befriended Curie and brought her to America as part of a campaign to raise funds for Curie’s Radium Institute. Emling explores in full the scientific career of Curie's daughter Irène; working together, Irène and her husband followed in her parents’ footsteps, sharing a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935—an honor Marie did not live to see, having died the previous year. Unfortunately, Eve, the daughter who opted for a career as a musician and journalist, receives scant attention; Emling relegates the details of her life to a single chapter, which feels obligatory and tacked on.
A slightly uneven but uniquely human look at a brilliant scientific family.