Monday, September 5, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: Radioactive! How Irene Curie and Lisa Meitner revolutionized science and changed the world by Winifred Conkling

Conkling tells the complex and mostly forgotten story of two famous scientists who were also women. Irene Curie, the daughter of more famous Marie Curie, was a brilliant scientist in her own right but was denied recognition by the male scientists of the day. However, she continued to research despite discouragements and survived the both world wars. Largely overshadowed today by her more famous mother, her own accomplishments should be more than enough to give her standing in her famous family.

Lise Meitner has a much more tragic story; denied entry into the masculine world of science, she nevertheless carved out a niche for herself and eventually came to earn a measure of success and even some slight acceptance. All of that ended with Hitler's rise to power and Meitner's accomplishments were overshadowed and deliberately erased by her long-time colleagues and by the upset and destruction of war.

The discoveries of Curie and Meitner led to the creation of the atom bomb, although both refused to be involved in using their discoveries for war. It's interesting to contrast the lives of these women, who both stayed true to their principles in different ways, with the scientists who became involved in the use of atomic power for weapons.

The science in the book is explained along the way as needed and even I could follow along (I somehow missed out on physics in both high school and college. Oops.) Conkling's research into science, history, and the politics of the time period is shown in the careful writing style, which frequently refers to original documents and takes the time to explain the context of actions and behavior of the many protagonists.

Verdict: This is not a fast-paced adventure story; Although there are moments of peril and danger, it's mostly a thoughtful discussion of the role Irene Curie and Lise Meitner played not only in the development of scientific discoveries but also in the involvement of women in science. It will take a little additional booktalking to get kids used to constant action to read this, but older, more mature middle grade and teen readers will be intrigued and enlightened by this dual biography. It's going to be available in paperback next year and I will certainly be adding it to my nonfiction section then.

ISBN: 9781616204150; Published 2016 by Algonquin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

1 comment:

Annette said...

I have never heard of either of these scientists. I certainly hope that my library adds it to our collection, too!