Cover image for Invent radium or I'll pull your hair
Invent radium or I'll pull your hair
Drucker, Doris.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
190 pages ; 23 cm
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CT275.D8754 A3 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"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.

Author Notes

Doris Drucker was born in Cologne, Germany, and studied law and economics at the London School of Economics, Kiel University, and Frankfurt University. After her arrival in the United States, she received an M.S. in physics from Farleigh Dickinson University and conducted scientific market research as an independent contractor for several decades. In 1996, she founded RSQ, a company to manufacture and market a voice volume monitor invented by herself and a partner. A board member of several nonprofit organizations, she now lives in California.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

The daughter of "German non-Jewish Jews," Drucker was three when WWI began. Growing up in Germany, war was always around her, as were fierce left-right political battles. A university student by the time Hitler came to power, she figured like other "assimilated" Jews that she should keep "a low profile until the Nazi tornado had passed over." In this memoir, too, Drucker lays low politically, focusing on the story of her childhood under her mother's severe rule. Drucker's mother hoped Drucker would become a scientist, and once shouted this memoir's titular phrase at her. Drucker and her siblings weren't allowed opinions on anything, from whether they were hungry to what their doll's name might be to what courses they'd take at the university. Although she'd studied abroad, Drucker only really left Germany in 1932, and not because she herself was worried, but thanks to a visiting Dutch relative who was appalled by Nazi street riots. She found work in London, where she ran into her old flame, Austrian journalist Peter Drucker (who later became a management guru). They married and emigrated to the U.S., where they've both had careers for the past 60 years. Drucker, who went on to become a successful businesswoman, is in her 90s now, but her taste for irony is still sharp. She recalls the gruesome stories Grimm's fairy tales, the Nibelung saga they read as kids, which they simply accepted as "part of our European heritage"; she reminds readers that the knights in armor they romanticized were "the original teenage gangbangers." A feisty read! Photos. (May) FYI: An excerpt of this book appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1998. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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 Koenigstein
The Social Order A Wider Horizon
The Inflation Years Back to School
My Father Books Back to St. Moritz
The Sisters
The Floberts
The Schiller School Travel Ski Trips
My Intellectual Journey
The Facts of Life Frankfurt Tunbridge Wells
The Settlement House A Former Thief Climbing the Social Ladder A Marriage Proposal
The Warburg Institute In France La Bohecirc;me Back to the Law Meeting Peter Again A Dinner Party Postscript