‘‘The life of Marie Curie contains prodigies in such number that one would like to tell her story like a legend.’’ Madame Curie is the classic biography of Marie Curie, who is as well-known for her uniquely close collaboration with her husband, Pierre Curie, as for her ground-breaking accomplishments in the study of radiation. Marie Curie won the 1903 Nobel Prize for physics, along with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, for isolating new elements they called polonium and radium. She won a second Nobel Prize, in chemistry, in 1911.
Curie was born in 1867 into a poor but intellectually active family of teachers in Warsaw, Poland, then under the rule of the Russian empire. In 1891, she moved to Paris to pursue a higher education at the Sorbonne. There, her dedication to her studies bordered on obsession, aggravated by extreme poverty, so that she spent years studying long into the night, in unfurnished rooms with little light and no heat, subsisting on little more than bread and tea. She earned a master’s degree in physics in 1893 and a master’s in mathematics in 1894. In 1895, she married Pierre Curie, a physicist with whom she was to spend the next eleven years in close scientific collaboration, until his untimely death in 1906. Inconsolable about this personal loss, Marie took over Pierre’s post as professor and continued alone the work they had begun together. Her final years were spent in dedication to her work as director of the Radium Institute in Paris, which had been established to accommodate her many students and lab assistants. She died in 1934 of leukemia, the result of years spent handling radioactive materials.
Madame Curie (1937), written by Marie’s younger daughter Eve Curie, approaches the life of this world-famous scientist from several perspectives. The now legendary relationship between Marie and Pierre Curie, which Eve describes as a perfect bond based on personal affection and the shared belief in the ‘‘spirit of science,’’ is central to this story. Marie’s status as a pioneer woman in the field of science places this book in the category of biographies of great women in history. Although she lived most of her adult life in Paris, Marie’s identity as a Pole, having lived under the oppressive regime of the Russian empire, continued to be important throughout her life. Finally, in Madame Curie, Eve Curie describes Marie’s scientific work in terms easily understandable to the general reader unfamiliar with the field.