Review of The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner

The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner
by Marissa Moss; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    Abrams    264 pp.   g
4/22    978-1-4197-5853-9    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-6833-5827-5    $15.54

This absorbing and well-paced biography of Austrian-born trailblazing physicist Lise Meitner begins by exploring ­Meitner’s path from college student to struggling laboratory scientist (prevented, as a woman, from gaining employment as a university professor in Berlin). With the coming of WWII, the narrative kicks into high gear as Moss depicts the Jewish Meitner’s delayed ­decision to finally flee Germany and the dramatic escape that follows. It is in the ­relative safety of neighboring Sweden that Meitner makes her most significant ­discovery, ­concluding that atoms can be split and that the resulting “fission” releases massive amounts of energy. The implications of this discovery would emerge shortly thereafter with the Manhattan Project. Moss provides readers with comprehensible descriptions of her subject’s scientific work; equally important to ­Meitner’s story is the depiction of the conditions under which she finds herself working during Hitler’s rise to power. Chapters are preceded by single-page ­comics showing significant moments in the unfolding narrative. These welcome breaks serve many functions, including moving Meitner’s story along, depicting ­scientists at work in their labs, and helping readers ­better understand the many ­pressures Meitner was under. Extensive back matter includes a timeline, profiles of the various scientists mentioned in the ­narrative, a glossary, an index, and chapter-by-chapter source notes. A perfect accompaniment to Sheinkin’s Bomb (rev. 3/17); see also Atkins’s Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science (rev. 5/22).

From the July/August 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter is the school librarian at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia.

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