cover image Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

Lucy Jane Santos. Pegasus, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64313-748-3

Historian Santos tracks the history of a mysterious element in her sweeping debut. Radium is not just a scientific marvel, Santos writes, but has also had a profound impact on popular culture; in addition to covering the well-known work of Marie and Pierre Curie, she surveys how the element was used in the X-ray machine first manufactured by Thomas Edison, played a part in experimental 19th-century medical treatments, has been touted as a miracle tool in alternative therapies (such as radon spas), and sat at the center of medical fraud in the early 1900s when a fake doctor claimed he could use it to cure cancer. The element has even thrived in the arts—radium paint was invented in 1902—and in the early 20th century became “a status symbol and an acknowledgement of the latest in scientific popularism.” Santos keeps the science accessible, and her survey is full of fun facts: “If you are scared of radioactivity, then I am going to start with some bad news... you are radioactive.” This is sure to please scientific minds and history buffs alike. Agent: Rebecca Wearmouth, Peters Fraser + Dunlop (U.K.). (July)