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

Cover of the book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium By Lucy Jane Santos
Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium
by Lucy Jane Santos
Pegasus, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on June 1, 2021.

Given the known dangers of radiation, it’s difficult to comprehend how anyone could have thought it was healthy. But for nearly half a century after the discovery of radium, radiation was touted by scientists and medical experts as a cure-all for a whole range of maladies, from cancer to tuberculosis to various skin conditions. Radium was used in spas, steam treatments, salves and poultices, face creams, hair tonics, toothpaste, and more. People were even encouraged to drink radioactive water. Scientists recommended a range of radiation-based medical treatments and worried about unscrupulous businesses selling patent medicines that falsely claimed to contain radium. It was only over time that the dangers of radiation became clear. The development of the atomic bomb marked the end of radium’s golden age. 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.

Book Review: Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman

Cover of the book Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman
Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars
by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman
St. Martin’s, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on June 1, 2021.

Gross and Altman continue their series of deep-dive oral histories with their latest entry, which is on the beloved and influential Star Wars universe. They present interviews with cast members, creative staff, production crews, and executives from all three film trilogies and the television shows, detailing back stories about the development of the franchise: script writing, production design, filming, scoring, promotion, and merchandising. Lucas didn’t just create beloved movies, he used his success to invent new technologies that revolutionized the film industry more than once. Also featured is analysis of the cultural context and impact of Star Wars, along with critical perspectives. While the bulk of the content focuses on the movies and television shows, the books, comics, and games of the Expanded Universe are also covered. By presenting quotes in the format of a group interview, the authors juxtapose different perspectives. The work is comprehensive, although occasionally repetitive. It doesn’t break any new ground; rather, the value lies in gathering so much information in one place. It’s sure to be in demand with Star Wars fans.