Half Lives

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A book review of Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium by Lucy Jane Santos

A book review of Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium by Lucy Jane Santos - a science/chemistry book for the average person.

Stars: ***

Pegasus Books (2021)
336 pages

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

Summary: Of all the radioactive elements discovered at the end of the nineteenth century, it was radium that became the focus of both public fascination and entrepreneurial zeal.

Half Lives tells the fascinating, curious, sometimes macabre story of the element through its ascendance as a desirable item – a present for a queen, a prize in a treasure hunt, a glow-in- the-dark dance costume – to its role as a supposed cure-all in everyday twentieth-century life, when medical practitioners and business people (reputable and otherwise) devised ingenious ways of commodifying the new wonder element, and enthusiastic customers welcomed their radioactive wares into their homes.

Lucy Jane Santos—herself the proud owner of a formidable collection of radium beauty treatments—delves into the stories of these products and details the gradual downfall and discredit of the radium industry through the eyes of the people who bought, sold and eventually came to fear the once-fetishized substance.

Half Lives is a new history of radium as part of a unique examination of the interplay between science and popular culture.

Half Lives

This was an interesting look into Radium and related chemical elements such as uranium. The book flip flops between too complicated for me to understand to very basic explanations. I think a specific education level should have been picked and then stuck to. However I understood the majority of it (I only have high school education) and learned quite a bit.

When I told my husband about this book he told me about Radium Girls and so I expected to read about it in the book. I was surprised that they weren’t mentioned till near the end of the book and not as much as I expected. The book is more about how Radium was used and less about the side effects or results of using it.

While the book was interesting, I feel like it was too long. It seemed like some things were gone over many more times than was needed and the book could have been 300 pages instead of 400 easily. If you are into chemistry you will definitely find this book interesting. If not though, it will probably be to scientific for you.

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.