Curie’s biography of her mother clearly portrays both the story of a scientist and the history and methodology of a science in its comparative infancy. Contemporary scientists frequently speak of their hands-on approach to research. Yet few would proceed with the approach as literally as it is described in this book, with the Curies shoveling and stirring a ton of pitchblende ore during their extraction of minute quantities of radium. One comes away with a feeling of exactly how science was once carried out.
The selflessness exhibited by Curie is itself an example of humanity at its best. Despite frequent illness (associated with constant exposure to radiation), Curie devoted herself to aiding others. During World War I, she invented a portable X-ray machine to be used in the treatment of the wounded; she also learned how to drive the ambulance in order to be of the most use. Indifferent to strangers, she was admired by her students. Awards were simply a means to equip her laboratory, medals became playthings for her children. Rather than establish a patent for the extraction methods that she used in the purification of radium, Curie donated the procedure to an American company as a means to serve humanity.
The story of Curie herself is timeless—a woman against the odds of poverty and ignorance. Crowned with success and damaged by fate, she carried on in her service. Other biographies of the Curies have been written, but none has captured the story as well as the Curies’ own daughter.