The fascinating, little-known story of how two brilliant female physicists’ groundbreaking discoveries led to the creation of the atomic bomb.
In 1934, Irène Curie, working with her husband and fellow scientist, Frederic Joliot, made a discovery that would change the artificial radioactivity. This breakthrough allowed scientists to modify elements and create new ones by altering the structure of atoms. Curie shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their work. But when she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences, the academy denied her admission and voted to disqualify all women from membership. Four years later, Curie’s breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to a brilliant leap of understanding that unlocked the secret of nuclear fission. Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb, yet her achievement was left unrecognized by the Nobel committee in favor of that of her male colleague.
Radioactive! presents the story of two women breaking ground in a male-dominated field, scientists still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to cutting-edge research, in a nonfiction narrative that reads with the suspense of a thriller. Photographs and sidebars illuminate and clarify the science in the book.
WINIFRED CONKLING studied journalism at Northwestern University and spent the next 25 years writing non-fiction for adult readers, including for Consumer Reports magazine and more than 30 books. As part of her transition to writing for young people, she is working toward her Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
I love the fact that more and more authors are writing narrative nonfiction for middle graders. These are not the nonfiction books of my childhood. I would have loved these as a kid, but when I was that age you couldn't have paid me to read nonfiction because it was so boring and dry! It actually wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered readable nonfiction. This is exactly the type of book I find fascinating. It is about a period of great change in history and about a subject I know little about.
Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World details the lives of Irene Curie and Lise Meitner and how they changed the world of physics and chemistry. Unless you are a science buff you have probably not heard of either of these women. Irene Curie is definitely overshadowed by her famous mother Marie Curie, but here contributions to science are just as great. Irene and her husband discovered artificial radioactivity and received a Nobel Prize for their efforts. Lise Meitner discovered nuclear fission, although her partner tried to take all the credit.
What made these women even more extraordinary was the time in which they lived. During the early part of the 20th century, women were not scientists and it was difficult for them to get an education much less a job in the field. But both Irene and Lise persisted because they were determined and brilliant. Lise Meitner had the extra hurdle of being an Austrian Jew working in Berlin in the years leading up to WWII. She had to flee the country and lost most of her research and lab equipment. Despite these hurdles both women made their mark on science and changed the world.
I received a copy of this book from both Netgalley and Baker and Taylor.
This book was good. But only good. It did not grab my interest. I read it because I was interested in the women being written about, not because the writing attracted my interest.
I was irritated by the insistence to report what happened without taking responsibility for opinions about what happened. While I think youth should be encouraged to make up their own minds, I also think we do a disservice to not openly condemn what should be condemned. Hahn was a weak self centered immoral human. He also was by far the least intelligent of the scientists mentioned in this book. However, the author, I suppose following the lead of one of her two main female scientists, Meitner, did not condemn him. She finally did in the last chapter. By then, with the main action already being done and the excitement of the war being over, I wonder how many youth bothered reading that last chapter. If ever a person deserved to lose their medal, it is Hahn. It was presented in 1946 because of delays of the war. At that point, not a lot was known about the concentration camps and the inhumane way that they and other groups, such as the Romany and Gays, were treated. While the news was out, it had not really sunk in what had actually taken place. Hahn utterly refused to condemn what happened in Nazi Germany and begged for money to help the Germans recover. While right about helping the Germans recover (since that lack of recovery after WWI led fairly directly to WWII), he was completely evil in not condemning what happened. He also cooperated with the Nazis during the war using the argument that he had no choice. He had choice. He could have escaped or risked his life and stood up against it. Sure, that is easy for me to say when not in that position. However, I point to other Germans who did risk and lose their lives opposing the Nazis. Instead, the scientific community, anxious to put the war behind them, accepted Hahn and others back into the community.
Somehow Irene Curie in particular never came to life for me in this book. One quote by her daughter helped me a lot in understanding her character. Perhaps more such quotes would have made Irene a more rounded person for me. It sounds like Irene was not an easy person to be friendly with. She had absolutely no tolerance for small talk (which I can empathize with) and seems to have resented Meitner for really being better than she and more established. On the other hand, there was no indication that Meitner ever acknowledged that she had wronged the Joliot-Curies when they had been right in the extrapolations from their experiment and she had stated otherwise. So maybe expecting Irene to be friendly with Lise is expecting too much. I don't get the impression that Meitner ever really tried to fight for female rights. It sounds as though Irene did realize the issue and at least passively fight against it. She ignored being ignored by doctors on the war front who doubted the value of x-rays by simply taking x-rays and showing them where to look for bullet wounds, etc.
I did find the timeline and who's Who useful. Actually, the back matter in general, was well done. I recommend this book to maturing feminists who are trying to find role models in history and especially science.
A really compelling and engaging dual biography of two physicists that history has overlooked and undercelebrated: Irene Curie and Lise Meitner. The book follows their accomplishments, most specifically artificial radioactivity (Curie) and then nuclear fission (Meitner). Together, those two processes led to the nuclear arms race that ultimately came to be the deciding factor in World War II. Of course, that wasn't the reason Curie nor Meitner were interested in these discoveries or pursuits. It was a byproduct of a science-hungry, greedy culture. And more, Conkling does a great job of exploring why it is we don't know these women (because, of course, sexism).
My only real criticism is the first chapter of this book is tough to read. It's dense and heavy in science; for readers like me who are rusty on their atomic knowledge, it might be tough to get into, but once you pass through that chapter -- which acts as a way to introduce the work of these two women -- you get excellent, deep biographies of each.
It was interesting these were talked about in tandem, not just because one discovery helped lead to another. It was interesting how different their lives were and how Curie's life of privilege was completely opposite of Meitner's life of not being wealthy and worse, being declared Jewish during the rise of Nazi Germany. Conkling gives good background in each and weaves in just enough history to give context to their lives in a way that furthers why it is they might not be household names in science (except, of course, we know Curie -- just Marie, Irene's mother).
Definitely a great read for those who love history, who love women's stories, who love science, and who are fascinated with war/the science behind war. While I did not love SABOTAGED by Neal Bascomb, this might be a great next read after his book...if for no other reason than it gives further context into the power of Norway's heavy water plant.
Every year, near the 11th February, which is International Women and Young Girls in Science Day, I like to read about female scientist. I feel, as a woman in science, it’s particularly inspiring.
I don’t believe in rating biographies, as people’s lives can’t be rated. This rating reflect my relationship with the book and how the author brought us the facts.
I had already read Marie Curie’s biography, by her daughter Eve, and in this one, we focus on two physics: Marie’s eldest daughter Irene and Lise Meitner. Both of them were forgotten by history. Lise never got the full recognizement she deserve and Irene was overshadow by her mother’s achievements. This book aims to show us how they were relevant for Science.
I would say this book is more science based then Marie’s biography, hence might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It was not a problem for me though, but I felt like it was a note that was necessary to make. The first half is really inspiring. The whole book is, in fact, but the second half is more of a mixture between facts and reflection. It’s all fact based, but it opens the door to a lot of reflection, that is not the stronger suit of the first half, which is more straightforward.
Overall, it is very interesting to see, while at the same time frightening, how some core issues of scientific research have roots that go back several years in time. Funding is an issue still nowadays, even if it’s not so overwhelming as it was in Irene and Lise’s time. Back then was way harder for women to access scientific careers, which have become easier as the years go by, but the issues in funding still make science a privilege of few. The book has a major focus on the implications of scientific discoveries in the World War II, which is fundamental to know about. Science cannot be dissociated from the civil society and it’s important that society is aware of the potential of discoveries, both good and bad.
I wasn't as dialed-in to the narrative as I was in her Votes for Women and it wasn't for lack of an interesting topic because the invention and discovery of scientific principles and matter is fascinating. The two women she shares their story of are also curious personalities themselves in their similarities but mostly differences as women of science. But there was either a disconnect in the storytelling or how the information was presented that felt like a textbook rather than narrative nonfiction.
As research subjects I can understand why she focused on them, likewise understanding the gravity of growing up among scientists and marrying them as well and the clout of names for legacy purposes (though when men claim the discoveries that's a whole other ball of wax).
I like that it's here and I'm glad that I read it, but it wasn't as page-turning as I had hoped.
The 5 stars are mostly for irene curie and lise meitner bc wow?? Someone needs to start teaching ppl abt female scientists as well, because i had never heard of lise meitner and that’s a hatecrime (literally, she was a woman with jewish ancestry)
I was incredibly pleased to find that it was not just a science book, which is what it should be. But it was far more. It was also a history of WWII from a scientific stand point and a book on the fight for women's rights. I recommend for people who arent turned off by an instructional book.
Radioactive! tells the story of Irene Joliot-Curie and Lise Meitner, two women who's scientific discoveries contributed to the study of radioactivity, and in the case of Lise Meitner, the discovery of nuclear fission, both of which would change the world in numerous ways. Unfortunately, for a long time neither of them received the credit they were due and they were almost forgotten by the world, in Meitner's case it was due to a former colleague who tried to claim that she had no part in the discovery of nuclear fission and for Joliot-Curie, she was the daughter of the Curies and her parents accomplishments often overshadow those that she made with her husbands. Thankfully, scholars like Winifred Conkling are now telling their story and the contributions they made, as well as the story of their lives and the history of atomic energy that led up to their discoveries, as well as their reactions to what was done with their discoveries.
Radioactive! was a fascinating and informative book dealing with the discoveries made in physics, namely radioactivity and nuclear fission, and the two women who were at the forefront of these discoveries. Winifred Conkling does a great job of giving the pertinent scientific details without bogging down the text and conveys it in such a way that it isn't hard to understand. Readers will also learn a lot about Irene Curie and Lise Meitner, two women, who I personally have never really heard of before, I'm sure like many other people.
One thing that become apparent especially with Lise Meitner and her discovery of nuclear fission is that there was a lot of drama in the scientific community (I can't speak on whether this is still the case today.) Even though she was the first to come up with the theory based on notes of experiments her old lab partner - Otto Hahn - would send her after she had to flee from Nazi Germany, he never gave her the credit she deserved. In fact, after he initially vaguely mentioned that she had helped him, he turned on her and said that she had hindered him from making the discovery and that it was only once she had left that he was able to figure out nuclear fission. Again, this is false because he would often write to her when he was confused about the outcome of his experiments, and she finally figured and hypothesized what was going on, and she and her nephew conducted experiments to confirm her theory.
While what Otto Hahn did was reprehensible, in some ways it seems at first he was only doing it to save his own skin, and ally himself to the Nazis, especially since he had worked with Meitner for so long and she was considered a Jew by the Nazis. I think because she had been deemed inhuman due to her heritage he felt that it was okay to do this, even though they had worked together for 30 years. Unfortunately, this also meant that for many years, Lise Meitner did not get the credit she deserved because Hahn had done what he could to discredit all of her previous work with him. After the end of World War II he was given an opportunity to give her credit, instead he once again betrayed his old colleague and friend and accused her of being a bitter women who had stood in his way of discovering nuclear fission.
Even though this is a non-fiction book, the main theme of this book is probably how women have made discoveries that changed the world, but yet very few of them are known to us today due to various reasons. In Irene Curie's case it was due to who her parents are, but yet here and her husband discovered ho to make artificial radioactivity, as well as find ways to harness nuclear fission so that it could be used as a "cleaner" source of electricity. Something else that stands out is how both Curie and Meitner were opposed to their discoveries being used to create the atomic bomb and being used as a weapon of mass destruction. It's just fascinating, and one can imagine, horrifying to see something you discovered to be used in such a destructive way. However, their discoveries changed the world in other ways, for example, a lot of people rely on nuclear energy to power their homes, and it has been used as a safer way of powering submarines. The world has indeed changed a lot due to these discoveries.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, especially since it is on a subject matter that I really enjoy reading and learning more about! I highly recommend this if you are interested in learning more about some the history behind radioactivity, but also just about these two women! 5/5 Stars.
RADIOACTIVE: HOW IRENE CURIE AND LISE MEITNER REVOLUTIONIZED SCIENCE AND CHANGED THE WORLD by Winifred Conkling tells the true story of two women who made significant contributions to science.
This important biography traces the often overlooked role of two female physicists who made major discoveries related to artificial radiation and nuclear fission. The story stresses the challenges facing female scientists in the 20th century.
Informational boxes provide related scientific background text and visuals. Although photographs and other illustrations add interest to the text, additional primary sources would have been useful. The book concludes with a timeline, glossary, notes, bibliography, additional sources, and an index.
Librarians will find this engaging nonfiction narrative to be an excellent addition to the library’s STEM biography collection. The focus on women’s roles will be particularly popular with middle school girls.
This excellent book details the lives and work of two important but little known female scientists: Irene Curie (Marie Curie's daughter) and Lise Meitner. Irene Curie (with her husband) discovered artificial radiation, that radiation can be transferred to a nonradioactive element. Meitner helped figure out fission, the splitting of atoms. Both discoveries led to the invention of nuclear power and the atom bomb.
This book is a great blend of biography, science, and action. Lise Meitner quite literally fled from the Nazis, persecuted because her grandparents were Jewish, making her a Jewish person in Hitler's book.
I found this book fascinating and would highly recommend it to readers who enjoyed Steve Sheinkin's BOMB - this book gives you a background of the scientific discoveries that ultimately led to the bomb being possible.
I was a bit hesitant to read this book at first because I thought that the science would go way over my head. Fortunately, the author kept the science very basic so that the reader wouldn't get lost, while also conveying how amazing the accomplishments of these women were in the world of science. I very much enjoyed reading about the lives of too often overlooked lady scientists. I found the life of Lise Meitner especially fascinating. Also fascinating, learning about the early days of nuclear physics and the role it played in WWII. Who would have thought that the transport of heavy water would involve some cloak and dagger spy work? Overall I really enjoyed this one.
“Radioactive!” - A book by Winifred Conkling is an excellent account of scientific discoveries by women scientists, specifically in the field of radioactivity. It starts with Marie Curie, who discovered Radium and its further usage in treatment of cancer. Irene Curie, Marie’s daughter, catches on and the quest for discovery continues. In parallel, Lisa Meitner, an Austrian who is fascinated by science, against all odds, goes to Berlin to work with Otto Hahn, another famous scientist.
While the book talks about their discoveries and immense contributions to science, it also exposes how women were treated by fellow scientists and also how world wars and politics around them had an adverse impact on the ladies. The gender bias was so ugly, that Otto Hahn took all the credit for nuclear fission, though the exact interpretation of the experiments were made by Lisa Meitner. And that too at the request of Otto. The personal agenda and bias combined with ego and politics, pushes them so far that they kill their conscience without batting their eyelids. Once the job is done, they ignore the women counterparts and don't even mention their names in their papers. If at all they have to, they are mentioned as the low rung assistants.
Despite having to digest overshadowing and sidelining, the women chose to forgive them and continue their work with even more fervor. World wars added to their woes and they had to be on constant move for survival. Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Switzerland…. Sweden, however, seems to be the best place for them and they got the support they needed. Quite appalling that the Nobel prize was at an arm’s distance but they did not get to hold it with pride.
It was Lisa Meitner who explained how a heavy element like Uranium is so unstable, when it is bombarded, gets split into other stable elements like Barium and Krypton, thereby releasing the fission energy. But the discovery was so badly timed, the military took it over immediately to make the atom bomb. Japan became the first victim of the most infamous Manhattan Project. The bomb would have ended the bloody war finally. But a bomb was certainly not the intention of the people who discovered the fission process. All along, the ladies maintained their position to harness the fission energy only for usage like production of electricity. In fact, when Meitner visits the US during her later years for lectures in many universities across the country, she has to keep insisting that she was never part of the deadly Manhattan Project.
After reading the book, one cannot avoid a whip of guilt and shame hitting us hard. Though I was aware that Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel though he didn't deserve it, this book gave straight accounts of what happened and even some letter correspondence between Meitner in Stockholm and Otto in Berlin during those tumultuous days.
A must read book for science enthusiasts. Otherwise too, it is a book that shows how a biography can be written so interestingly.
A biography of both Irène Curie (daughter of Marie Curie) and Lise Meitner, who both contributed significant findings about radiation and nuclear science that eventually led to the creation of the atomic bomb and atomic energy (even though the bomb horrified both women). The book relates how each woman was respected and treated in similar and differing ways by the scientific community (Curie won a Nobel prize, Meitner was excluded from one she arguably should have been included in winning). It talks about how their work fed off of one another. And how in an era of science dominated by men, these women made a huge impact, despite the hindrances of their gender and in Meitner's case, her Jewish heritage.
This was a very interesting book. It does a really good job of laying out the progress in nuclear science and how we got to understanding the various parts of an atom and how radiation and fission work. It was especially interesting to see how scientists tag team on various discoveries. Observations made by Curie made Meitner curious and then led to more findings. A comment by Meitner caused Curie to strive for greater understanding of one of her discoveries. Few books really look at how the scientific community feeds off of one another. The book also spans the whole range of understanding of radiation, from playing around with radium and putting it in everything from water to paint to the point of realize how destructive and dangerous radiation can be. It was also interesting to see that both women worked as x-ray techs in WWI for their respective countries and that profoundly impacted their resolutions to not be involved in WWII research related to developing a bomb. Recommended to those interested in women in science and nuclear science.
Notes on content: No language issues. No sexual content. Deaths in wars are mentioned. Deaths from natural and accidental causes are mentioned. Adverse effects of radiation and various cases are mentioned.
This book shows the lives and work of two important female scientists: Irene Curie (Marie Curie's daughter) and Lise Meitner. While the science was a bit hard, the story of a woman struggling to be recognized in a science field in the early 1900's was engrossing.
Irene Curie never failed to help people. She went to military posts and cured men after an air raid. She spent her 18th birthday in a post at Hoogstade, Belgium. We also learn about Meitner, who struggled not only to obtain an education, but also to find jobs in her field. She was involved in experiments including nuclear fission, but her work was interrupted by WWII.
Both highly educated women struggled against the fact that they couldn’t get what they deserved. Curie's efforts to join the French Academy of Science were repeatedly turned down, while Meitner never received a Nobel Prize despite 15 nominations. As conflict builds up in these women’s lives, they try to find a compromise.
This book is a blend of biography, science, and heart-warming story. I would highly recommend it to kids in grades 7 through 9. However, it is also a good read for everyone. Review by Madhalasa I, age 12, North Texas Mensan
Lovely look at two phenomenal early 20th-century female scientists. They came from different backgrounds, but their shared love of science (and determination to learn and succeed) drove them both. It's remarkable the insults they both had to endure to pursue a career as a scientist; the book reminded me that women in the West have come SO FAR in 100 years. I especially enjoyed reading about Meitner's arc, since she was most successful in Berlin in the 1930s--a situation that couldn't last, given that she was ethnically Jewish. Her closest work relationship was with a non-Jewish male scientist (Otto Hahn), and Hahn failed badly to stand up for her (and even ended up taking credit himself for some of her work, calling her a "bitter, disappointed woman"). However, they still maintained a relationship due to Meitner's generous heart. I greatly enjoyed reading about both of these remarkable, fierce women.
Looking back in the past,seeing women fighting for their rights while being excluded and underestimated just makes my day even better. Knowing that we are finally equal because of the voices that made it happen lights my heart with pure joy. Also, it is kind of nice when reading about how different elements were discovered and also other great inventions that are still used to this moment. I loved how everything was perfectly structured, seeing how Meitner’s and Iren’s life’s conjoined for a few projects.Also the community of physicists was very supportive and I enjoyed seeing them correcting others mistakes. You should read this book if you want to know more about the awfulness Meitner and others had to endure during the world war’s and how she and Irène finally achieved respect for their hard work.
An excellent overview about two women who made great strides in the field of science but were still very much overlooked due to society's view about women at the time. Though Irene Curie, was the daughter of Marie Curie, many doors remained closed to both women. Irene brought artificial radiation to the world in her laboratory experiments and Lise Meitner brought the fascinating phenomena of fission. Both these women, without knowing it, were instrumental in the creation of the atomic bomb. Though neither of them approved of using the knowledge in that venue, rather, they wanted it to be used for the good of all. I highly recommend this book to all. It is a great read, very understandable, and includes an extensive timeline, glossary of definitions and bibliography.
I really enjoyed this well-written and informative historical foray into the discovery of radioactive elements and the progression towards understanding the process of fission. This book details the lives of two intelligent and determined women, living during a time where women were not welcomed in science circles. This makes their little recognized accomplishments all the more amazing. It does make one wonder how much has been lost in the world by repressing the education and career progression of women. So sad. Thank you, Winifred Conkling for highlighting the lives of these awesome women of science!
Received this audiobook for review purposes. I prefer nonfiction in print, or else at least with a PDF, but I don't believe this one came with that.
It was actually more interesting than I thought--I never even thought about Pierre & Marie Curie having a child (they had 2 daughters), much less that one received a Nobel prize, too.
This book chronicles the lives of Irene Curie and another physicist, Lise Meitner. Meitner herself was often nominated for the Nobel prize, but never received one--her best chance at once somewhat stolen from her as she had to flee Nazi power due to her Jewish heritage.
Not the smoothest read, but a highly informative book!
I love a good nonfiction book, particularly when true events are woven together to make a compelling story. And this book does exactly that.
These women made enormous contributions to science and, in particular, the development of the atomic bomb. They did it all in the midst of two world wars that put them on battlefronts and made them part of elaborate conspiracies to flee Nazi's.
If you like Steve Sheinkin's BOMB, you will love this book that dives into the science and the women behind the race for the Atomic bomb.
Read with the 8YO at bedtime. He did not enjoy it as much as he thought he would. "I was hoping it would teach me about radioactivity but instead it was about a depressed girl growing up," he said. "Also a man got his skull smashed by a horse."
This is an oversimplification, of course, but there was a lot more biography in the book than science, which disappointed him. A different reader might have a different reaction.
Biographies are not typically "life-changing" books to read, but they are inspirational when amazing scientists discover more about our world. This book is about two women who overcame intense prejudice against their sex in order to prove to the world that they had something to contribute. Their discoveries (artificial radioactivity and nuclear fission) changed the world as we know it, in both positive and negative ways. Very interesting read.
A very interesting story about radiation and the conditions of women scientist during the mid 1900s. I did not get bogged down with science and was presented with a social aspect to the science which I always love learning. This helped feed my fascination of social history verse just the facts. Felt like I understand these key people and what they went through in history.
Of course I knew about the Curies but I didn't know about their daughter Irene's accomplishments and contribution toward nuclear physics. I hadn't heard about Austrian physicist Lise Meitner, either. Very interesting and informative. Good for out-of-school adults (like me!) as well as for YAs (the intended audient).
Two women who made great progress in science but were sometimes (especially Meitner) denied recognition. We see both their genius and the struggles they faced as women (and, for Meitner, as someone the Nazis decided was Jewish). They probably would not have grouped themselves together.
There seem to be a lot of WWII books in the Cybils stack this year.
Winifred Conkling has a wonderful ability to bring history alive in an entertaining and easy-to-read style. She has quickly become one of my favorite authors. While I was reading this, and two other of her books, just seeing the covers created a sense of curiosity in my 10-year old granddaughter and we enjoyed many discussions about Ms. Conkling's books while I was reading them.
I've had an ARC of this sitting at my desk forever (obviously) and finally read it for our staff book group. My interest waned after the first 100 pages or so, which is weird because that's when it started talking about World War II and atom bombs, but maybe I'd gotten burned out on the science by that point. An interesting look at two women scientists who've been unfairly overlooked.