BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
Marie Curie: A Life by Susan Quinn. (1995). Simon & Schuster.
The life of Marie Curie (1867-1934) demonstrates the intellectual development, determination and sheer scientific brilliance of the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. In 1903, she and her husband, Pierre, along with Henri Becquerel received this award for their joint research on radioactivity. There was much hostility among members of the Nobel committee against awarding this prize to a woman. Fortunately, sanity prevailed after they realized the quality of her independent work and genius in physics. Marie Curie's unique and pioneering contributions to the study of radioactive substances helped later physicists and chemists to unravel the inner structure of matter. She was born (the fifth and last child) near Warsaw, Poland to parents who were teachers. Her father was an avid student of science who conveyed his enthusiasm for the scientific method to Maria and her siblings. She grew up during a tumultuous period in Poland's history when university students and other citizens were rebelling against the Russian occupation. Every Pole's life was surrounded by rebellion against the Czarist regime during the second half of the 19th century. Her home life emphasized learning and intellectual pursuits. After graduating from gymnasium in 1883, she became a governess to children of Polish families. During this frustrating period, she engaged in self-study related to physics and chemistry. Then in 1891 at 23 years, she went to Paris to study science at the Sorbonne. Her sister and mentor, Bronia Dluski along with Bronia's husband Kazimierz, were students at this world-renowned French university. They encouraged Maria to pursue scientific studies there, and she took courses from some of the greatest scientific minds in physics, mathematics and biological chemistry. Two years later Maria received her first science degree as the highest ranking graduate in her class. She obtained her doctorate in physics in 1903. While at the Sorbonne, she met and married Pierre Curie -- a young and promising physicist. Together, they helped create the field of atomic physics through their research on such elements as radium and polonium. "It had been she who first isolated radium; it was she who, in 1907, established its atomic weight. . . ." (Quinn, 1975, p. 276).
In 1906 a tragedy occurred when Pierre was run over and killed by a thirty-four foot horse drawn wagon. Marie continued with her research in physics in addition to raising two daughters. She triumphed again in 1911 when she received a second Nobel Prize for her work in chemistry -- the identification of the radioactive elements, radium and polonium. This book covers both Curie's scientific-intellectual and personal lives. There is no greater human being that gifted students can study and emulate.
Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker by Thomas Kunkel. (1995). Random House.
How did a "country bumpkin" from Aspen, Colorado become one of the best editors in American literary history who cultivated some of this nation's finest writers? Harold Ross (1892-1951) was a gypsy wanderer before he came to New York -- he worked as a newspaper reporter in Salt Lake City, Utah; Marysville, Sacramento and San Francisco, California; and Atlanta, Georgia. At 20 years, his reporting for the Atlanta Journal of the notorious Leo Frank trial (1913) and subsequent lynching opened his eyes to prejudice and hate. He entered the U.S. Army in 1917 and quickly became one of the first reporters for the newly formed Stars and Stripes (1918). He spent most of his Army career covering the American Expeditionary Force's activities in France during World War I. Eventually, he became managing editor of this newspaper; an experience that prepared him for his extensive editing and literary career after leaving the military in 1919.
He and his first wife, Jane Grant, came to New York during the roaring twenties where Ross wrote for various magazines and newspapers. During this time, he and other journalists, literati and theater people started the Algonquin Round Table -- a discussion group that met at the Algonquin Hotel. It included such writers and celebrities as Alexander Woollcott, Harold Ross, Heywood Broun, George S. Kaufman, Harpo Marx, Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker. Many other creative individuals were in this circle; their main goal was to stimulate each other's minds and imaginations through conversation. The Round Table continued for twelve years but Ross gradually withdrew from participation and made a clear break when he founded The New Yorker in 1925. This was a landmark date in American literary history because it was the beginning of a weekly literary and news journal that included America's most talented writers. The world-wide reputation of this magazine was based on the idea of "literary journalism" that Ross nurtured in writers such as Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Liebling, Alexander Woollcott, S.J. Perelman, Dorothy Parker, E.B. White and James Thurber. Ross was known as an eccentric and stickler for accuracy among these and other writers. He brought many innovations to the literary scene such as his encouragement of in-depth reporting and profiles in a magazine format, his use of one line cartoons to depict the foibles of American society, his willingness to take a chance on new writers who showed potential and imagination, and his satirical view of American culture. As a result of his peeves, eccentricities and unrelenting reporting standards, he was considered "the grand character of American journalism." His high journalistic and literary standards made The New Yorker into one of the greatest cultural treasures in literary history. Harold Ross was a high school dropout. He was also an avid reader throughout his life beginning in his teenage years in Salt Lake City. His favorite writers were Jack London whom he admired and read avidly, Bret Harte, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, O. Henry, James Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain. Like most highly gifted individuals, he surrounded himself through reading and conversation with other people of similar abilities. These intellectual experiences and opportunities stimulated his own mind to high achievements.
The Call of Service: A Witness To Idealism by Robert Coles. (1993). Houghton Mifflin.
The author has been writing about his observations of children for over thirty years beginning with the New Orleans desegregation crisis in 1961. Robert Coles, a Harvard University pediatrician and child psychiatrist, is well-known through numerous books discussing his longstanding concern for children. This book gives his perspective on services provided to children and adults by social and political struggle, community service, personal gestures and encounters, charity, religiously sanctioned action, government sanctioned action, and service to country. He describes how he was influenced by his parents' work in the Catholic Worker Movement and their dedication to helping the poor and elderly. As an undergraduate and during his medical school training, his mentors were William Carlos Williams, Erik Erickson, Dorothy Day and Anna Freud. Two chapters in particular are important to educators of the gifted -- Mentoring, and Doing and Learning. In the mentoring chapter, Coles talks about teachers who have provided useful advice and assistance to their pupils. The doing and learning chapter describes how Coles has used the works of great authors such as Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, Tolstoy and Chekhov to stimulate his students' thinking about their community service and volunteer work. (Coles has discussed this theme of relating literary masterpieces to contemporary problems in other books such as Times of Surrender, 1988.) He has attempted throughout his career to use ideas from the humanities to improve his and his students' understanding of their work and lives. We highly recommend this book to gifted students and teachers interested in "the call of service."
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
• ART to ZOO is a free quarterly for teachers in grades 4-8. It contains excellent descriptions of artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution and detailed lesson plans for teaching about history and culture. Write to the following address for a free subscription: OESE; Smithsonian Institution; A & I 1163; MRC 402; Washington, D.C. 20560.
• CLASSROOM CONNECT is a comprehensive monthly periodical that covers all aspects of using the Internet. For information about subscribing, contact: Wentworth Worldwide Media, Inc.; P.O. Box 10488; Lancaster, PA 17605-0488.
EXPERIENCE WITH A FESTIVAL OF GIFTEDNESS
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
We must cultivate our own gardens. Voltaire (1694-1778), Candide, Chapter 30.
Recently this advice from the French philosopher Voltaire had a personal significance for me. Although I live in New York City, I chose to attend a performance of Molière's comedies -- The School for Husbands and The Imaginary Cuckold -- in Stamford, Connecticut. It was one of those moments when I encountered a network of gifted individuals functioning as a creative unit. First, there was the theater itself, The Rich Forum, where I encountered a tier of gifted individuals such as architects and technicians. This theater for the performing arts is a temple for live performances, holistically designed for the benefit of the audience. The acoustics, lighting and seating have been arranged for the spectators' enjoyment and ability to become involved in what they observe. The next tier of giftedness consisted of the set and costume designers who psychologically transformed the audience to 17th century France. The third tier was composed of the performers and the director who created a living world of the past. Molière's wit became relevant for the contemporary viewer, as the stage was of both the past and present. The sentiments and foibles in these plays were universal and applicable to our age. The last tier of giftedness included the French author, Molière (1622-73), and the modern translator of these plays, Richard Wilbur. Molière in France, like his contemporary Shakespeare in England, is an exemplar of his own language. Yet they did not think of themselves as great writers, but rather as successful entertainers -- both economically and socially. Molière deliberately created comedy to be a type of theater equal in rank to tragedy and history. He wrote witty, rhyming lines in a farcical context. His purpose was to make human beings capable of laughing at and understanding themselves. Richard Wilbur, who is also a famous American poet, has successfully placed Molière's wit into colloquial English expression and simultaneously maintained the original French rhyming pattern -- a major achievement in the art of translation. As a special treat that night, Wilbur had traveled from Massachusetts to Connecticut to attend the performance. When I left Stamford to return home in the Bronx, I was stimulated by this festival of giftedness. Vive la différence!
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, June-July 1995