Review: 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

Harry N. Abrams, 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Merle Eisman Carrus

The Woman Who Split the Atom is an inspiring story of a woman determined to study science in spite of the challenges she faced. Author Marissa Moss takes us through Lise's life from living at home with her family to traveling to Berlin to work with some of the greatest physicists of all time. Though she was a demure, small young woman and intimidated at first, she persisted.

Meitner met important professors and scientists, who would be her friends and supporters: Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Heinrich Rubens, and Niels Bohr. She also worked with her nephew Otto Frisch and the man who became her life-long scientific partner, Otto Hahn. She published articles about her scientific findings under the name L. Meitner, so no one would know that these articles were written by a woman.

This is an important book, bringing Meitner’s life and career back into the spotlight. She was a principal player in the critical scientific discovery of nuclear fusion, overlooked by the men around her and by history because she was a Jewish woman.

Meitner made an important discovery: she split the atom, which led to an invitation to work on the Manhattan Project in the United States, developing the atomic bomb. Lise was against helping to create something that would lead to destruction and death. She spent the rest of her life working to find a way to use atomic energy for peaceful work. She spoke to audiences about science's ethical responsibilities. 

Moss displays her talent as an artist, adding her signature graphic novel artwork to the biography. The start of each chapter illustrates the action with comic book style art of the main scientists and Lise, to give the reader a good idea of how the characters looked.

This book details what it was like for a Jewish scientist during the years around World War II. The reader learns about how Jewish scientists were perceived and treated in Germany. Moss also presents the religious turmoil that Lise Meitner wrestled with. Though she did not consider herself particularly Jewish, Hitler and Nazi Germany recognized her Jewish family history, so her success and prominence soon became a liability. For as long as she could hold onto to her lab and experiments, she refused to leave Berlin, but finally she saw the danger and her friends helped her escape Nazi Germany.

Marissa Moss has written a comprehensive, engaging biography of Meitner that will appeal to young readers and adults alike. She shows the very human side of Meitner’s experiences and reasons for taking the chances she took to achieve her goals. Her strength and determination can be an inspiration for young people who are pursuing their interests. If you are persistent, nothing can keep you from achieving your goals.

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Reviewer Merle Eisman Carrus resides in Hollis, NH and writes book reviews for the NH Jewish Reporter newspaper. She is a graduate of Emerson College and received her Masters of Jewish Studies from Hebrew College. Merle is the National President of the Brandeis National Committee and co-chair of Women's League Reads. She leads books discussion groups and adult education classes for BNC. She blogs her book reviews at