Good Works Library - A mind of her own by Paula McLain

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Editor’s Note: This month’s book review was written by Dr Joshua Wright, who was one of our guests on the first season of Good Conversations. We wanted to share this book with you because it provides an insight into an exceptional woman. Some readers might be uncomfortable with our choice because she has left the faith (while maintaining respect for true faith when found, which she believed to be rarely), but we believe her story as a pioneer woman in the sciences would prove valuable regardless of the lack of spiritual content.

Hello, reader. Today we're going to take a bit of a break from your normal writer and allow you to peer into some outside insights. Yes, that was intentional, into – out – in... Ah well, at least you'll get something different today. I was asked if I could review a book for the blog and at first I was a bit baffled. Normally my reading material isn't particularly suited to this blog as it tends to be fantasy or sci fi, though more often than not simply scientific literature. After some discussion though I came up with an idea for a book I had recently consumed. While I'm sure most of the books suggested are quite lovely to read and all, I find myself with little time for holding a book. Instead I listen to numerous audio books, so today's suggested reading is slightly different in oh so many ways. I want to talk to you about “A Mind of Her Own”. 

Not only do few people know the name Marie Skladowska, but her groundbreaking life starts far before her famous Nobel Prizes. For you see, this was a time of early modern science. Imagine this, Poland, the end of the 19thcentury, still a part of the Russian Empire. A family with a mother dead from consumption, a father struggling to make ends meet heading a secret moving university to hide from the Russians, and daughters far more intelligent and capable than society gave them credit for at the time. Marie and her sister, Bronislawa, wish to make more of themselves. Marie found herself in one of the earliest classes to accept women at the University of Paris, though she was not alone in her pursuit of a degree of physics.

Marie Skladowska was a tireless worker. She worked punishing hours, fought twice as hard to get any recognition, and was delightfully rewarded for her efforts. She first earned the respect and admiration of her professors, given charge of experiments all on her own. It was also during this time that she came to know a gentleman who would later become her husband. At first she kept him away, not wanting any distraction from her life goals. Though time and persistence, keeping a respectable separation between them, she found herself succumbing to the feelings inside. Her fears were for naught, as she and her husband became an expert duo in their field, household names anyone would recognize. Though the book ends before the two of them begin their work that would set the stage for their first Nobel Prize, we can admire the story of a young woman, unsure and alone in a foreign country, detested by her peers for being a woman in their midst, poor to the point that ice would form in her water basin at night, and yet succeeding beyond anyone's most vivid imagination.

I hope that you will take the time to listen to this book, as it is fairly short. I particularly enjoyed the quaint, albeit cutting edge at the time, physics and theories. It's a story of struggles and triumphs, caution and risks, and above all the single minded drive to be a woman unfettered by society for having a mind of her own. For this is the story of Marie Skladowska before she came to know her partner Pierre Curie. 

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