Radioactivity: a history of a mysterious science

Radioactivity: a history of a mysterious science
Marjorie Malley
2011 | 288pp | ?14.99 (HB)
ISBN 9780199766413
Reviewed by Richard Toon


In the preface to this book Malley comments that it provides a broad and accurate history which avoids excessive detail. It aims to give a good overview of the history of radioactivity for specialists and non-specialists alike.  

It begins with a discussion of both the well-known and not so well-known figures in this area. The extraordinary feat of Marie Curie and her determination to isolate radium from pitchblende, taking many years of her life, is truly remarkable and is detailed in a fascinating chronology of events. 

The book is well paced and gives a very good overview of the area. It is diverse in its coverage, from the pioneers who unwittingly subjected themselves to potential and often serious health hazards, to Max Planck, who eventually laid down the foundations for today’s quantum theory.  

Malley uses an excellent mix of not only historical facts, but also details about the lives and emotions of the scientists and the cultures that existed during its discovery. Vitally important contributions by the investigators who developed the tools required to detect radiation, and the standards for comparing the research, are discussed.    

The book is not only an excellent review of the history of this important science, but is also good value for money. I found it engaging, well written and clearly presented in a logical fashion and I would certainly concur with Malley’s aims of the book. 

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