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Half Lives


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Lucy Jane Santos presents the surprising history of radium in everyday life.

About the Author

Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of twentieth-century leisure, health, and beauty with a particular interest - some might say obsession - in the cultural history of radioactivity. She is now the Executive Secretary of the British Society for the History of Science and the Administrator for the Historical Writers' Association. In the past, she has also worked as Secretary of the Authors' Club and the Director of the Crime Writers' Association. Lucy has worked for the Gourmet Society, where she was editor, and at The International Wine and Food Society. This is her first book.


With verve and vivacity, Lucy Jane Santos conducts her readers on a unique tour of the twentieth century's most significant scientific discovery. Before the R-word threatened destruction, it offered hope for the future -- teeth would glow white, cocktails would shine in the dark and cancer would be vanquished. This evocative account puts people and their emotions centre-stage of science's past. -- Dr Patricia Fara
Half Lives shines a light on the shocking history of the world's toxic love affair with a deadly substance, radium. Unnerving, fascinating, informative and truly frightening. -- Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Five
In Half Lives, Lucy Santos transports us back to a time when consumers wondered whether mixing radium into chicken feed might result in eggs that could hard-boil themselves; when diners cheerfully drank radioactive cocktails that glowed in the dark; and when people used toothpaste containing lethal thorium oxide in the pursuit of healthy gums. Santos unpicks fact from fiction and exhibits a masterful grasp of a complex area of science history that is so often mistold. Half Lives is a delightfully disturbing book that reminds us all of the age-old Latin maxim, 'caveat emptor.' -- Dr Lindsey Fitzharris, bestselling author of The Butchering Art
There was a time when radioactivity seemed to promise the future. It was the stuff that twentieth-century dreams were made of, before those dreams turned sour. This marvellous book explores the ways radioactivity stood for a better future, worked its way into money-making schemes of all kinds and offered hope to saints and charlatans. By doing all that - and doing it so well - it also offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of putting too much faith in simple technological solutions to all our problems. -- Iwan Rhys Morus
A little gem of a book -- Medical Journalists' Association
Fascinating and well told * Irish Times *
Truly mind-boggling ... I became so engrossed I read most of it in one sitting * Chemistry World *
An engaging and definitive history * Popular Science *
With wit and empathy, Santos tells the story of the entrepreneurs and consumers in radium's history who have until now been considered quacks, or fools, or both * Inside History *

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