Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Madame Curie

Marie Sklodowska Curie [Image Source]
In his memoir Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks writes of his boyhood love of Eve Curie's 1937 biography of her mother Marie Curie.  [Sacks tells a lovely story of giving a lecture in which he mentioned his devotion to Curie's book and seeing an elderly lady nodding and smiling in the audience.  She introduced herself to him afterwards as Eve Curie and autographed his battered childhood copy of her book.]  Since N. loved Uncle Tungsten, he and Tim decided to read Madame Curie together.  As with Uncle Tungsten and the books of James Herriot, N. is riveted by the detailed account of life in an earlier era, and especially by the drive and passion Sklodowska Curie had for her study.  While Sacks' narrative describes an early passion for chemistry that later subsided in favor of neuroscience, Curie's is a story of lifelong tenacity and absolute dedication to scientific discovery.

N. continues to absorb the broad outlines of the history of science from these biographies, along with some specific facts about chemistry and physics (although of course some of the science is too complicated for him to understand fully).  We do many other more age-appropriate reading and learning activities with N., but we are pleased that our improvised curriculum has so far also included challenging works such as Uncle Tungsten, Madame Curie, the books of James Herriot, the King James Bible, and the Odyssey as they have crossed our path.  In the original New York Times review, Charles Poore called Madame Curie "a biography that stirs the heart and the mind by a fine counterpoint of sense and sensibility, a great story superbly told."  Even if some of the "great story" of Marie Curie is beyond N.'s comprehension, I think it is an excellent experience for him to encounter it not in a simpler children's version but in the "superbly told" narrative that so gripped the world when it was first published.


Alice@Supratentorial said...

Next year we are going to be focusing on Chemistry for science and I'm planning on using Uncle Tungsten as a read aloud along with other books and experiments. I wouldn't have though of it for this age before reading your blog but I think it will be great fun. I'll have to jot down this title to as a possiblity for us.

Fanny Harville said...

Alice, I'd love to hear how it goes next year. And if you're willing to share any favorite sources for chemistry experiments and other books, we'd be very interested to hear about them.