Monday, June 13, 2011

Price of Greatness: Obsessive Genius

After picking through the bibliography and sources of Brian's biography of the Curie family, I choose Barbara Goldsmith's Obsessive Genius as my next book to read in this stream.  (A stream of books is a sequence where each book references the next one.)  Instead of spreading itself across all the Curies, this book concentrates on Marie.

Goldsmith seems a bit more willing to be critical of Marie, casting a more suspicious eye on the funding of her laboratory, her insistence on personally holding the standard setting curie of radioactive material, her complicity in promulgating the myths surrounding the discovery of radiation, and the possible estranged relationship between her and her daughters.  Since my current interest in Marie Curie began with a poem about the women in the family, I found the last issue particularly interesting, as well as the different angle on her scientific achievements.

Reading several biographies in a row encourages me to focus on the differences; I can see how Dennis and Goldsmith can read the same primary documents and come to different opinions.  Since I've never come close to those documents, I don't yet have an opinion toward which is right, although it would be a nicer world if it were true that they all got along.  As a person who did enjoy maths, I don't assume Irene was ironic or desperately trying to gain her mother's approval when she wrote asking for more problems; I also don't find it ludicrous that a child was working on what is generally considered high school math problems.  But it's certainly possible that she hated it.  The teasing between Eve, musical and fashionable, and the clothing oblivious scientists Marie and Irene could be read as mean and belittling, or it could be cosy and affirming.  The entire family knew they were on stage; it is certain that Eve deliberately chose the image she wished to portray.  The tension between the women's obvious talents and the reluctance of the world to acknowledge female intelligence makes the science and lives of the Curies fascinating; I clearly haven't finished following the connections along this theme.

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