January 2011 | Ellen F. Brown

A Radioactive Visual Biography of Marie and Pierre Curie

It's not every day that a book artist receives a love letter from the New York Times. Lauren Redniss has earned that rare honor for her stunning new biography of Marie and Pierre Curie entitled Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout. A rave review in the Times--one of many from around the country-is a welcome sign that artists' books continue to find their way into the mainstream.

Admittedly, Radioactive is not a traditional artists' book. Published by HarperCollins imprint It Books, some might deem it more of a graphic novel or just a beautifully illustrated biography. Whatever you call it, Redniss has created an exquisitely crafted work of literary and visual art. Her thoughtful text is paired with two hundred pages of striking hand-colored prints and line drawings that portray the love story of the Curies in a way that could not have been done in words or image alone. The author/artist paid the greatest attention to every detail, even designing her own font. Perhaps most strikingly, the book's jacketless cover, printed in luminescent ink, glows in the dark. The exterior also has a pleasant textural quality that reminds me of my children's Touch and Feel books.

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Holland Carter once wrote of artists' books that some are "made for reading, some for looking; some for touching; many for all three." Radioactive hits the tifecta of sensory experiences. And I'll add a fourth--it even smells good, probably because of all that gorgeous ink used in the illustrations. Redniss reminds readers that the printed page still has much to offer us.