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Invent Radium or I’ll Pull Your Hair

A Memoir

"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.

Read an excerpt.

200 pages | 11 halftones | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2004

Biography and Letters

Table of Contents

The Black Hat
World War I
The Servants
The Original Information Technology
The Ancestors
The Children
My Mothers Marriage
The German Defeat
The French Arrive
The Social Order
A Wider Horizon
The Inflation Years
Back to School
My Father
Back to St. Moritz
The Sisters
The Floberts
The Schiller School
Ski Trips
My Intellectual Journey
The Facts of Life
Tunbridge Wells
The Settlement House
A Former Thief
Climbing the Social Ladder
A Marriage Proposal
The Warburg Institute
In France
La Bohême
Back to the Law
Meeting Peter Again
A Dinner Party

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