Review of ‘Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium’ by Lucy Jane Santos

Radioactivity is good for you. That’s what many people believed, back when exciting glow-in-the-dark elements captured the public attention and cathode rays were all the rage. Half Lives is a history of one element in particular, radium, discovered and isolated by the Curies and which was popularly used in medicine, therapy, beauty treatments and other applications a hundred years ago.

The book explores the history of radium and related issues such as ‘quack medicine,’ the British spa towns, uranium mining and the scientists who became martyrs to their investigations before the deadly effects of radiation were known. The science is presented in an easily understood way, while the writing style is readable with a sense of humour. The content wasn’t always very interesting to me but if I’d been researching the history of radium (until the 1950s or so) and wanted some details to use, then this book would be perfect.

Footnotes and references are included. There is also an image section with some fascinating examples of radium-inspired products and photos of the Curies.

Thank you to Icon Books via NetGalley. Half Lives will be published on 2nd July.

11 thoughts on “Review of ‘Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium’ by Lucy Jane Santos”

    1. I’m interested in all kinds of things 🙂 This one stood out for me when I saw it on Netgalley. Thanks for reading!

  1. Great review. I am interested in the history of radium (well, sort of), but have not found so far a non-fiction book on it that I instantly want to read. I think there is also The Radium Girls (2018) book out – and I was also interested in it for a while. Isn’t it shocking what kind of lives people lived in the past? – coming home to their apartments with arsenic-laden wallpapers to tuck in their quieten-down-through-opium babies so that they can relax and make arrangements to go to their radium baths? I am fantasying about timelines, but still – pretty unbelievable and, of course, advertising played a big role too.

    1. It’s really fascinating (in a grim sort of way) the dreadful substances that used to be part of people’s lives. I recommend Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams if you want to read about the history and use of various elements but not in an academic way. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Well thank you very much – I do like variety! I would recommend checking this one out if the subject appeals to you.

    1. Anything which glowed like that, was thought to make you glow with health 😉 It was even in toothpaste. Hmm that’s an interesting point, although we have better ways of getting evidence now.

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