The Radium Girls – Kate Moore – 2016 – Historical Non Fiction
The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.
Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.
Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…
I think the subject matter of this book is fascinating as I knew very little about radium poisoning before I read it. This book looks in great depth at the social changes that happened following the Radium Girls cases and if you are looking for a detailed timeline of the matter this is a perfect read.
In particular I enjoyed the parts of the book where the style was closer to fiction, which happens particularly in the prologue and first section of the book. I found this made the information easier to take in than the final section which read more like a series of events that the author had researched but was unsure how to fit into the same style. The author had clearly done a lot of research, but then had tried to fit far too much into the book leaving me feeling bogged down.
I was very thankful there was a list of the key players in the cases at the front of the book. There are so many scientists, business men and radium girls mentioned (some of which the author goes into their stories in great detail) and it was confusing remembering who they were. I think the book could have been improved by having a timeline of the main events as a lot of dates were also mentioned such as when the girls started work, noticed symptoms or died, and as the author included so much of her research I wish a timeline had been included so that I didn’t have to keep flicking to remember what else had happened.
I gave this book 3/5. Although I found the subject matter interesting, the book was quite long-winded, often unnecessarily, which at times made reading feel like walking through mud.