I continue to be impressed by the breadth, depth and humanity Fabrice Erre and Sylvain Savoie show in their long-running series on famous historical figures and events.
This thirteenth volume of the children’s illustrated series focuses on Marie Skłodowska Curie, who did so much and fought so hard to be able to help people and, along the way, get the recognition she so rightfully deserved. I, like so many others, know that she battled the sexism that sought to deprive her of an education, opportunities and career in order to become a Nobel-prize-winning scientist twice over. I know that her research into radioactivity and celebrated discovery of radium eventually led to her death by leukemia. But there was so much more that I didn’t know about this fascinating, complicated, heroic woman before reading Mssrs Erre & Savoia’s excellent biography, and so much I’m grateful to have been able to learn from the best and most accessible history series on the market today.
Framed as a conversation between level-headed, knowledgeable teenager Annie and her much more impulsive younger brother Nico, the book begins with the latter complaining that there’s nothing left to discover in all the world. Annie, ofc, points out that we cannot know what we do not know, which leads to a discussion of science and, specifically, Marie Curie.
Marie Skłodowska was born in Warsaw in 1867, then a part of the Russian Empire. With the encouragement of her scientifically-minded family — her older sister Bronia actually paved the way by going to Paris to study medicine first — she saved up money to join her sister and acquire the academic credentials she needed to be taken seriously. After years of hard work, she graduated top of her class in physics and, the next year, second in her class in mathematics. That latter year, she met fellow scientist Pierre Curie. The two fell in love, but once her studies were over, she moved back to Warsaw to be with her family. For weeks, Pierre wrote her impassioned love letters. She finally chose Pierre and science over family and Poland, moving back to Paris, marrying Pierre and having two children with him.
But she was no mere housewife, as this tale continues. With Pierre as her partner in life and science, she would earn together with him a Nobel prize in chemistry. After his emotionally devastating death in a road accident, she would eventually recover to take over his position at the Sorbonne and go on to win a Nobel prize in physics on her own, making her to this date still the only person to receive a Nobel prize in two different fields. Her career in France would be set back with sexism and scandal, but her international reputation was made even before her heroism in World War I.
The book continues to talk about her long-lasting legacy (as well as the side effects of radiation) and includes brief biographies of other luminaries in Marie’s life, such as the journalist who raised funds for her research as well as her eldest daughter and fellow scientist Irene. Sylvain Savoia illustrates all this with charm, expressiveness and energy. Nanette McGuinness’ excellent translation from the French makes this volume accessible for readers in English as well, an invaluable service.
I really love this series, and am continually impressed by just how smart and thoughtful and sensitive it is. I’m already looking forward to the next installment, and will not stop wishing for a boxed set of these books that I can buy “for my kids.”
Magical History Tour Vol 13 – Marie Curie: A Life In Science by Fabrice Erre & Sylvain Savoie was published October 10 2023 by Papercutz and is available from all good booksellers, including