Book: Marie Curie- Against the Odds

Author: Claire Throp

Rating: 4/5

Marie Curie: Against the Odds-Claire Throp

A short book of 400 odd pages,     ’ Marie Curie: Against the Odds’ gives a high level overview of scientist Marie Curie’s life. The book is impersonal in tone and sticks to publicly known facts to paint Marie’s portrait in words. While it is not possible to know Marie as a person from this book, it is useful as a comprehensive introduction to Marie and her work. 

Social/Historical context:

The book spans Marie’s lifetime between 1867 and 1934 AD. It gives an accurate account of her professional life but as a reader I was not so interested in her scientific work. What intrigued me was how Marie got two Nobel Prizes in an area that was supposedly a male bastion in the early 1900s. She did not seem to compromise on family life either. She was married with two children. After the death of her husband, she also had a romantic relationship with a fellow scientist, Langevin (the book however does not mention this affair). 

Throp throws light on Marie’s struggles through poverty, her philosophy towards her work, and her passion for excellence.  She hailed from a poor but educated family in Warsaw that could hardly make ends meet. Her father however believed strongly in academics and ensured that his daughters take academics seriously.  Along with merit, I learnt how passion drove Marie through a lot of physical hardships.

Writing Style:

Simple prose supported by a handy timeline chart interspersed with black and white photographs of her life make the book an effective resource for Marie Curie enthusiasts. 

My Thoughts:

Marie Curie is my idol. I am intrigued by her professional achievements; she is the only woman in the world to have won two Nobel prizes. She is also the only Nobel winning scientist with a Nobel laureate daughter. There are 6 male Nobel laureates whose sons have also received the Nobel Prize. But Marie Curie remains the only woman in history with this accomplishment.

I wondered how it was possible for a woman in the early 20th century to devote enough time to her profession to win two Nobels herself while bringing up two successful Nobel worthy daughters at the same time. As a 21st century commonplace woman, I still face gender biases at the work place and at home. I struggle to juggle household and professional responsibilities. So Curie’s story struck an immediate chord with me. I wanted to find out about the intimate lives of this talented family in order to unearth how Marie Curie could achieve all she did in her lifetime- and possibly learn a few tricks from her for self-application.

This book alone could not answer all my queries. Later, I also read ‘Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science’s First Family’ by Shelley Emling to get a more intimate understanding of her persona.

I realised that her two daughters, Irene and Eve have always regretted the short time they spent with their talented and aspiring mother. Eve, in fact, hardly ever got to know her mother. And yet the two daughters remained incredibly loyal to and proud of their mother. Irene grew up to assist her mother in her scientific work and proved to be a worthy successor to one of the world’s most intelligent women. Marie herself, while never parenting her children the traditional way, ensured that she fulfilled all her major parental duties: she ensured they were safe and well provided for, she took an active(albeit cursory) interest in their mental and physical development and finally she ensured that both the daughters grew up into strong willed independent women themselves.

Book Reviewed by Ashmita Saha

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