cover of book

Invent Radium or I'll Pull Your Hair: A Memoir
by Doris Drucker
University of Chicago Press, 2004
Cloth: 978-0-226-16503-5
Library of Congress Classification CT275.D8754A3 2004
Dewey Decimal Classification 300.92

"And don't forget, once you are married to a Rothschild you can become a famous woman," Doris Schmitz's mother told her. "Be another Madame Curie and invent radium! You'll be famous!" Doris reminded her that radium had already been discovered. "Don't argue," her mother said. "You're going to invent radium or I'll pull your hair. You're just being negative, like your father."

Rothschilds and radium were the horizons of Doris's childhood. Born in Germany in the early twentieth century, she came of age in an upper-middle-class family that struggled to maintain its bourgeois respectability between the two World Wars. Doris Drucker (she met her husband Peter—of management fame—in the 1930s) has penned a lively and charming memoir that brings to life the Germany of her childhood. Rather than focusing on the rise of Hitler, Drucker weaves history into her story of the day-to-day life of a relatively apolitical family. She chronicles here the crowds that gathered to see the Zeppelin, her attempts to negotiate her Prussian mother's plans for her (like marrying well and becoming a famous scientist), ski trips and hikes, the schools she attended, her father's struggles to support the family, and all the stuff and drama that make up a childhood. Drucker's energetic storytelling, eye for the telling detail, and sly humor draw the reader into her portrait of a way of life made forever poignant by its place in history so close to the brutalities of World War II.

From the boarding school that forbade girls to look at their own legs while they bathed to the unfortunate confusion that resulted from Doris's misinterpretation of "Warsaw has fallen" as "The Waschfrau [washerwoman] has fallen," the tales recounted in Invent Radium or I'll Pull Your Hair give dimension and depth to a milieu that has been flattened by the historical events around it.

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