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Obsessive Genius:  the Inner World of Marie Curie

This month the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club read Obsessive Genius:  the Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith (2004).  There are many biographies of Madame Curie, but this one is unique for its focus on Curie’s personal life, in particular, her struggles with depression and her experiences being a woman in a man’s society.  Also, Goldsmith is the first author to have access to diaries, letters and personal interviews.  The result is a “sharp, sprightly, refreshing portrait of the brilliant melancholic scientist, affording a sensible look into her head and into the body of her work,” a Kirkus review states.

All of the book club members greatly enjoyed reading Obsessive Genius despite the fact they didn’t think they were interested in the topic beforehand.  One woman said she never would have picked up the book on her own, but is really glad she read it because she learned so many new, interesting things about Marie Curie.  Another woman who had read another Curie biography enjoyed this one for its novel-like quality and the gossip. 

The group touched on several issues: Curie’s distant relationship with her mother who died of TB when Curie was young and her subsequent distant relationships with her two daughters, Irène and Eve; Curie’s deep love for her husband Pierre and her affair with a married man after Pierre’s death; the difficulty of acquiring a formal education and her being famous for discovering radium, when really, her greater contribution was her discovery of radioactivity and atomic science.  We could have gone on for longer than our allotted hour as most members of the group related to some aspect of the book so well that they shared personal connections and drew interesting present day comparisons.

The next book the group will read in this session on “strong women” is The Art of Scandal:  the Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Douglass Shand-Tucci.  Books are available at the reference desk.  You are invited to read the book and come to the next meeting ready to share your thoughts, on Friday, February 3 at 10am in the Hermann Foundation meeting room.  New members are always welcome.  Hope to see you there!

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