Radioactivity: From the Curies to the Atomic Age

Radioactivity: From the Curies to the Atomic Age
by Tom McGowen

(Illus.; from the History of Science series)
Franklin Watts Inc.
JH, YA **


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The theme of this book is summed up in the closing paragraphs, where the author writes, "No scientific discovery ever stands entirely on its own; it is always based on a discovery that came before." In Radioactivity, a short history of the discovery of radiation, McGowen does a beautiful job of linking separate events into a cohesive narrative of scientific inquiry. The discoveries of modern atomic physics are traced from Roentgen's x-rays and Becquerel's radioactivity, through the Curies to J. J. Thomson's electrons and the true nature of the atom. A good chunk of the book is devoted to telling the story of Marie Curie, whose pleasure in research was cut short by the radioactive materials she worked with--they slowly poisoned her and she died of leukemia. If this book has a flaw, it is that the whole story of radiation cannot be covered adequately in so few pages, thus, many topics--especially research done after Curie--are treated superficially. Nevertheless, McGowen has painted a wonderfully clear picture of what radioactivity is and how it was discovered.

--Reviewed by Robert Bly in Science Books and Films, 22/3 (January/February 1987), p. 169.