Book Review – Radioactivity : A History of a Mysterious Science

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Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science, written by Marjorie C Malley, is a non-fiction detailing the history of Radioactivity and how it captivated the imagination of the scientific community as well as the industry, politicians, and the general public.

Radioactivity was not just another scientific phenomenon. It created a new branch of study in itself, had a profound impact on the society, international politics, war, business and industry and medical sciences.

This is a very geeky book with lots of scientific jargon which a non-technical person may not be able to understand without considerable effort. However, readers who have relevant technical background will find it a good and interesting read.

I loved the portions of the book which contained the stories of the researchers, even more than the technical stuff. I was interesting to know how the personality traits, education, background and even religious beliefs of the researchers shape the way they hypothesized and tried to explain radioactivity. Life stories of Marie Curie and other researchers of the era was fascinating and heart warming at the same time (the biography of the Curies is on me “To read” list now). I was also surprised to know the sheer number of scientists who got noble prizes for their discoveries related to radioactivity. It was also very interesting to read about the effect of politics, war, and economics on the development of this field of study.

Pierre and Marie Curie in their Laboratory (Image Courtesy – Wikipedia)

On the flip side, the book misses out on a lot of interesting recent developments in this field. I was anticipating a section on nuclear power industry, all the associated controversies and the role this industry has played in international politics. Also, there is a lot of interesting history related to nuclear warfare industry, which could have made the book much more interesting and appealing for an average reader.

Overall it is a well written book, meant for a very niche audience.

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