Marie & Pierre Curie A Tale of Love & Fallout
This book is wonderfully designed as an object and a story. I can image the confusion in a bookstore or library as to where to place it in the collection: science? biography? art? with the graphic novels (that hodgepodge section encompassing everything drawn from comic strips to Maus)? A solid argument could be made for all of the above. One of the things I appreciated about it is that it embraces the concept of book as physical artifact — parts of the non-dust-jacketed cover even glow in the dark — and makes you think about the value in that. It would be a lesser thing, a Kindle version.
The book reveals the stories of Marie and Pierre Curie and their work in discovering radioactive elements. If that doesn’t sound interesting, it is because you don’t know enough about it. I’ll confess, I didn’t before reading this book. But as the back cover puts it: sabotage! temptation! duels! mystery! revelation! In this case, those are all true stories. The book is about the scientific discovery of radioactivity, yes, and it is also about love, consequences, and the risks involved in the zealous pursuit of people and ideas.
The art (all created by Redniss) matches the story and is literally part of the text as she designed the type used as well. Most of the images are cyanotypes, which have a beautiful blue glow about them. The images aren’t collage, but reminiscent of them and that works well, particularly as Redniss weaves in other stories (the Manhattan project, Chernobyl maps, nuclear bomb testing). She even writes about Three Mile Island, and ties that back to Pierre’s death, seeing both as normal accidents — the kind of event marked not so much by one catastrophic mistake, but a series of interwoven events leading to disaster.
Redniss has created a fascinating object, a vehicle for an extraordinary story. I hope she creates more books, and that more creative people get their hands on this one, and that it helps them rethink the wonder you can design into old fashioned paper pages. Highly recommended.