Episode 1: This Book Will Kill You

It’s the premier episode of The Book Owl Podcast!!!

We’re being bombarded with news of scary things going on throughout the world, which means I know you’re eager to find out about something else that will kill you.

Although reading and books seem like safe pastimes, there is one book out there that will kill you.

In this premier episode of The Book Owl Podcast we’ll discover the story behind the woman who wrote this troublesome tome and the danger it still poses today.

If you want to get even more out of every episode (I’m talking bonus tidbits, people!) please join flock by signing up for The Book Owl Podcast newsletter.

Thanks for listening everyone, and enjoy the episode!!!

Note: There is a sound quality issue (low volume) that couldn’t be resolved in editing. It’s not too terrible, but just remember to turn down your earbuds once you finish listening.




Episode Notes:

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore. And this is the very first show…in other words, bear with me, I’m just getting the hang of this. Now, even though we’re bombarded with news of scary things going on throughout the world, I know you’re eager out which book might kill you, so I’ll introduce myself at the end of the show. For now, a little theme music.

So if you tell someone, say your bungie jumping buddy, your favorite hobby, they probably look at like, “Wimp.” Reading’s something you do to relax, it’s something you do from the safety of an armchair, it’s about as far from bungie jumping danger as you can get, and it’s rarely associated with causing bodily harm unless you’r reading on your phone and walk straight into a lamppost, but that’s a whole nuther topic.

However, there is a book out there that can kill you. It won’t kill you quickly. It will invade your body, linger in there, and wreak havoc until you finally die. It’s so dangerous it’s stored in a lead-lined box and you have to sign a waiver to see it. Should you disregard the rules and safety instructions, you risk burns, nausea, and even cancer.

So who wrote this dangerous tome? A headstrong woman who was celebrated in her lifetime, but also scorned and shunned.

Her name? Marie Curie.

Marie Curie, born Maria Sklodowska (sorry for any pronunciation butchering there) in Warsaw in 1867. She couldn’t be bothered with conventions that said women didn’t need higher education so she studied in the wonderfully named Flying University, an underground school in Russia. This served its purpose for a time, but she eventually opted to finish her education in Paris.

But heading off to school in Paris wasn’t cheap. To afford her education, she turned off all the heat in her apartment and would instead wear all her clothes layered on top of one another to keep warm. Marie was big science nerd. She was obsessed with physics and chemistry, so much so that she’d get so lost in her work, she’d forget to eat. In Paris. Where they have taste tempting boulangeries. The mind boggles.

Anyway, she eventually came to work in the lab of Pierre Curie. I know, her name is a big spoiler alert, but let’s just say these two not only shared a passion for science, but for each other.

Pierre was keen to marry Marie, but she refused him. She had planned to go back to Poland and really had no intention of staying in Paris, so what would be the point. Pierre, rather romantic for a scientist, told her he would give up science and move to Poland with her. This still didn’t win Marie over. What sealed the deal? Marie found out that as a woman, she would have a tough time establishing a career in Poland, so back to Paris and back to Pierre.

The two were wed and let me just set this scene. This wasn’t frills and fancy dresses. Marie didn’t even have a wedding dress, she wore her normal lab clothes. So you can almost picture this couple urning the officiator to hurry up, they crank out their I dos, look at each other for a sec and then dash back to the lab to keep on working. Honeymoon, schmoneymoon, there’s chemicals to be analyzed.

And that’s where we get back to that deadly book. It’s actually a collection of books, Marie’s lab journals and notebooks.

Marie was curious about work being done with x-rays and decided to study uranium and how exactly radiation works.

So when I did my physics studies in college we of course had some lessons on radiation…with accompanying lab work. We were literally handed a piece of radioactive material and, well I don’t really remember what we did with it, but we did have to follow a lot of safety rules. And as a kid, my school took a field trip to the Hanford Nuclear Plant, because you know, what better way to educate kids than exposing them to radiation. But again, we all wore those little exposure meters and we all had to follow some strict rules.

Not so much in Marie’s days. There were no safety regulations because no one understood the danger. This was a time when young woman painted uranium directly onto watch faces to make them glow in the dark. This was fine, delicate work and the ladies would lick, LICK the paintbrushes to bring them to narrow points to do the detail work. Needless to say, these ladies were not the healthiest lasses on the block.

This was also a time of quack cures and fun stuff that tried to used science as a marketing tool. People knew certain materials like thorium radiated energy. Who doesn’t want more energy, right? And if you could tout your product as bursting with energy, why not toss a little thorium in? So, the stuff was tossed into toothpaste, drinking vessels, and, um, laxatives for that little extra something.

Anyway, back to Marie. She’s handling uranium, polonium, and radium with no more concern than we would handle a jug of merlot. She’d even keep vials of the stuff in her pocket. Forget they were there and wander home with them. She even delighted in keeping the vials around the lab because in the dark, and I quote, “the glowing tubes looked like fairy lights.” Yeah, Fairy lights of death!

Marie’s haphazard ways with deadly substances weren’t in vain. She coined the term radioactivity and ushered in the era of particle physics. She also won a couple Nobel Prizes, one in Physics (with Pierre) and one in Chemistry. Too bad that the heavy exposure to her fairy lights left both her and Pierre to ill to attend the ceremony for the first Nobel she won. Irony?

Three years after missing the Nobel Prize ceremony Pierre died. Oddly enough, not of radiation sickness, but of being crushed under a horse-drawn cart. Which makes you wonder if the horse was being fed thorium laden oats to boost his energy.

Marie mourned Pierre, but she continued her work. She was living in a time when women were meant to stay home and raise the kids, and she was working in a field that was filled mainly with men. She did not have an easy time of things and was often shunned despite her being super smart (except about safety). 

After a time, Marie started a relationship with a former student of Pierre’s. His name was Paul and he was married, but had been estranged from his wife long before hooking up with Marie. Nevertheless, Marie was labeled as a home wrecker. The tabloids were no different then than today and they had a field day denigrating Marie. Poor Marie wasn’t even home at the time. She’d gone off to a conference in Belgium. When she returned she had to fight her way through an angry mob.

Still, Marie wasn’t a woman to be held back by rumors. In that same year she won her second Nobel Prize becoming the first person ever to win two of the prestigious awards. Go Marie!

Surprisingly Marie lived to a fairly good age for the time of 67. Unlike Pierre, she did suffer the effects of radiation poisoning and had been plagued with chronic illness most of her adult life. Her passion for what she was studying would be the cause of her death.

Marie is recognized as one of the greatest scientists of her time and her notebooks contain a wealth of information and insight into her discoveries.

Unfortunately, as I said, they will kill you.

But the books can be seen. They’re kept in the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. To contain the radiation, the books live in lead-lined boxes. And no you can’t check them out even if your fines are paid up.

You can view them…provided you wear protective gear (a haz mat suit) and sign a liability waiver.

The crazy thing? This protocol hasn’t been in place all that long. The notebooks were actually used by the Institute of Nuclear Physics until 1978. When they started noticing an unusually high cancer rate amongst the scientists and the surrounding neighborhoods, the books, like many of us right now, were put in lockdown.

That’s it. I survived my first episode! If you enjoyed it, please leave a review or head to TheBookOwlPodcast.com to contact me and let me know what you think. And don’t forget to subscribe. You can find all the links you need at TheBookOwlPodcast.com/subscribe.

Now, a little about me. I am a book nerd. I love books so much that, after spending a decade as a scientist, I decided to write my own. I’ve published two historical fantasy series and I’m currently working on a humorous, paranormal, mystery (still trying to nail that down) trilogy. If you want to learn more, head to the About section of TheBookOwlPodcast.com. If you want to support the show, consider purchasing one of my books, which you can find at TheBookOwlPodcast.com/books.

Thanks everyone chat at you next time!


This episode was sponsored by Indigo Books & Movies where you can take 30% Off Bingeworthy True Stories (Ends April 19)


The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved

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