Lucy Jane Santos looks back at the discovery of radium at the end of the 19th century, its ascendance as a desirable item and dubious cure-all product and its fall from grace after the Second World War.
... science and popular culture combine in an engaging survey of the radium craze ... Santos studies the effect of radioactivity on the popular imagination while striving not to impose hindsight on those who were inspired by its possibilities and ignorant of its dangers, reminding readers that if we and our contemporaries are more likely to be radiophobes, we still have to come to terms with the fact that radioactivity is everywhere. Fans of Mary Roach will find much to enjoy in this intriguing niche history.
In telling this history, Santos is careful not to judge from the perspective of hindsight: the use of radiation in medicine wasn’t quackery, it was supported by the best current scientific understanding. It’s an entertaining and eye-opening tale of a strange time in the early history of modern science.