Wednesday, October 9, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Marie Curie and Her Daughters by Shelley Emling

I thought it was time for a little nonfiction. Marie Curie and Her Daughters by Shelley Emling is, obviously, a book about the famous scientist and her two daughters, Irene and Eve.

When I was young, I read a lot of those inspirational biographies for girls: Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Jane Addams and, of course, Marie Curie. But the biographies were pretty superficial. Madame Curie’s story was meant to demonstrate that women could be scientists. I think I came away with a picture of the woman discovering radium pretty much by herself, with Pierre as sort of a glassware washer, who got a lot of the credit because he was a man. Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize, then tragically died of radiation poisoning. I admired her in an abstract way–but I didn’t want to BE Marie Curie.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this book caught me by surprise. Marie Curie had daughters? I realized that I actually knew nothing beyond what I’d read when I was eight or ten years old. Time to remedy that.

Emling’s book follows the later years of Curie’s life, after the death of her husband, after her affair with Paul Langevin, a married scientist who had once been one of Pierre Curie’s students. (This was not in the book I read as a child!!) Marie is desperate for funds to continue her research. She’s desperate for more radium. She is on the verge of being shunned by the scientific community because of her affair. And, she is trying to mother her two daughters. Irene is a budding young scientist. Eve, years younger, is musically inclined. Into their lives comes an American journalist named Missy Meloney. Meloney is able to convince the reclusive Curie to embark on an American tour to promote her research and raise money from the women of the United States. They raise enough money to purchase a gram of radium, enough to invigorate Marie’s research lab.

Irene and Eve accompany Marie on the American tour. It is a turning point for them, bringing them closer and giving them a focus and inspiration for the next phase of their lives.

This fairly short, well-researched book is an interesting account of the lives of these three women. Marie pressed on with her work long after winning her Nobel prizes, teaching and inspiring generations of scientists, particularly women. Irene went on to marry another researcher and to earn a Nobel of her own. Eve became a journalist and humanitarian. They were incredible women. This informative book is well worth the read.


  1. Check out the biography Marie Curie: A Life by Susan Quinn, now available as an eBook:

  2. You'll also want to read the book that Eve wrote about her mom, Madame Curie. I read it aloud to my kids (10-18) this summer, and we really enjoyed it, all of us for different reasons.