The Radium Girls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

Fantastic, very readable non-fiction. This story was heartbreaking and empowering. A group of women who suffered and then fought to change the law knowing full well they would never benefit financially from it themselves. An important piece of history.
Was this review helpful?
First, this review has been a long time coming. I read The Radium Girls months ago before it was published and have been meaning to write a review ever since. Between graduating, traveling, and life in general I just never got to sit down and write what this book deserves. Per usual, I'm now a little late to The Radium Girls party but I hope to have a productive discussion with those who have read it and encourage those who haven't to do so.

But first, a little history

Before we can really dive into The Radium Girls it is important to understand both what Moore is talking about and who Moore is talking about.

The term "Radium Girls" refers to female factory workers employed at three different sites during the early 1920s to manufacture watch faces that were luminous. These women succumbed to radium poisoning due to the practices in which they were trained by the companies for which they worked. They were taught to "lip-point" which means that they would dip their brushes in radium based paint, use their mouths to "point" the brush, and then paint numbers on a watch face. To exacerbate their radium-exposure even more, the women were paid by the watch face meaning that they would try to complete as many in a day as possible. This was standard practice and the company encouraged it by insisting radium was harmless.

Of course, with our modern understanding of radioactivity we know that these women were working in hellish conditions even if they seemed acceptable to the naked eye. Eventually, these woman began deteriorate physically quite rapidly. Radium poisoning wracked their bodies in unthinkable ways and it took doctors quite some time to figure out what was even happening to them. Armed with a diagnosis, the women turned to their former employers for justification. Unfortunately, the law let these women down in way that it should not have done. Because of this, the Radium Girls were and still are important figures in the labor rights movement. Their lawsuits and struggles opened the door for employees to hold their employers legally accountable for unsuitable working conditions.

An Interesting Perspective

Kate Moore offers an interesting perspective as she tells the story of the Radium Girls. First and most obviously, she is a woman. This gives her the ability to be uniquely sympathetic to their struggles and to paint a compelling emotional narrative from start to finish. It is refreshing to read the story of women through the eyes and perspective of a woman.

Second, she is British. Should the nationality of an author affect their written work? I don't know if it should, but it often does. Americans and Brits have an incredibly different view of the world which affects the way an author chooses to narrate their work. Here, Moore's calm British tone lends beautifully to the story of The Radium Girls. I feel that without her calm narration the book could have easily slipped into histrionics. This plight of the Radium Girls is most definitely worth getting upset over but doing so would not have benefited the goal of the The Radium Girls

Third and finally, Moore is one of the most prepared authors I have ever read. The reader is acutely aware of just how much she knows about her subject. First encountering the Radium Girls while directing a play based on their lives, she was relentless in the pursuit of information about the girls, their doctors, their lawyers, and the companies they worked for. One almost gets the impression that Moore was friends with some of the Radium Girls which lends itself to the personal narrative of the book.

There's something here for everyone

Now that we understand the both the historic background and the background of the author, we can not productively discuss the work itself.

In The Radium Girls Moore does a fantastic job of dispelling what I like to call the "group mentality". Instead of discussing the Radium Girls as a large, impersonal group, Moore discusses individually. She takes the time to let the readers get to know the woman before they succumb to radium-induced illnesses and afterwards. We see their personal struggles as they get married, have children, or continue work. We read, through their correspondence and journals, of their shock, dismay, and anger at the companies who were responsible for their situation. Over and over again, Moore makes sure to point out the fact that The Radium Girl were people with names, faces, dreams, desires, and sorrow. This is refreshing coming from a book of this genre as it would be all too easy to lump the cast of characters into a mass mold. Doing so would have made authorship easier on Moore, but she obviously prefers accuracy over ease.

Central to the narrative of The Radium Girls are the doctors, lawyers, and company men involved in both perpetuating the wrong doing and ending it. Because of this, Moore gives both detailed medical and legal accounts of the proceedings that led up to a vicious legal battle. I was enthralled and horrified as I read of the physical decay and suffering these women underwent. I loved the descriptions of the medical proceedings and hung to every word as Moore detailed the doctor's struggle to grasp what was really happening. I drank it up.

But then came the legal proceedings. The second half of The Radium Girls focuses on the legal battle between the women and the company who wronged them. With just as much detail, Moore expertly documents the legal proceedings and how the law failed the Radium Girls. I really can't complain about it because it is so well-done, but reading about the legal proceedings was just incredibly boring to me. In fact, I almost put The Radium Girls down once I hit the bulk of the "lawyer-y" part. That may be just because I have a very STEM oriented mind. So I wouldn't let this issue I had worry you too much. Be warned, The Radium Girls is not a beach read. It is a lengthy historical work told in flawless detail. It is difficult to read and dry in some parts, but it is overall enjoyable.

Bottom Line

Kate Moore's The Radium Girls is a shining example of non-fiction at its best. Yes, it is lengthy and detailed but that doesn't take away from the readers' enjoyment. The Radium Girls is an incredibly important work telling a story that should not be forgotten.
Was this review helpful?
An excellent book - as a science teacher I was familiar with the science of radium and the phenomenon of radium poisoning, but this book brought the dry science to life. Although the phrase 'brought to life' is ironic, since it would be more accurate to say that the book made more real the many terrible sufferings and painful deaths endured by the young girls who painted the luminous dials of watches and gauges in the early twentieth century. The truly vile manoeuvrings of the factory owners to avoid liability over the predictable damage is as evil as anything described in the fiction of John Grisham. A very good read that - hopefully - shows how far we have come in protecting workers from occupational illness.
Was this review helpful?
From the Radium Girls' torment from the radiation poisoning that devoured them from the inside-out, the unbelievable array of barriers thrown in their way by their employers in the quest that many of the girls made for justice and simple recognition, to the effects that have rippled out to this day in so many ways, and everything in between, this is an incredible story whose subjects Moore does immense justice to in a detailed narrative that
very successfully shocks and disgusts beyond words yet will also leave readers inspired and awed by the time they reach the final page.
Was this review helpful?
Another disturbing chapter of our history revealed.
Was this review helpful?
Not since The Lilac Girls has a book made such a distinct impression on me.  I just sent an e-mail to over 20 women urging them to read this book.  I so appreciate the opportunity to read quality books like this and recommend them to others.  

This book uncovers an important part of American social and labor history that until now has been kept in the shadows.  I applaud the author, who did a fabulous job bringing these women to life from their graves to tell their story.. I highly recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
I must start off by saying that this is not the type of book that I usually read. I saw a video on Facebook about these 'Radium Girls' and decided that I would definitely have to read this book. 

I cannot believe that I did not know about this before. This was such a sad book. These girls (and some men) sacrificed so much so that others could be safe. It was really a heart-wrenching read. Before their symptoms started, they were so happy and carefree. This book details their struggles with their health and their fight for justice. 

They won in the end but sadly, it was too late for many of them. 

This is an absolute must read. I highly recommend this book. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebook for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
A truly astounding tale but it's not for the faint of heart.  The real-life struggles of these women will break your heart.  A very important story for not only Americans but people worldwide.  These women stood up for their rights and won valuable protections against industrial abuse of workers.  Their stories are truly horrifying and disturbing. The topic which lends itself to discussion so this would be an excellent choice for a book club.
Was this review helpful?
I received this book in exchange for an honest review on NetGalley.

Despite how grateful I am to have received this book, I sadly had to abandon it about 25% of the way through. I was dragging myself through it and could not get myself interested enough to read more than a few pages at a time. In the interest of all the other books in the world, I decided to abandon ship. 

The premise of the book interested me greatly, and I wish it had been written in a more exciting style, rather than being bogged down by details. I could this becoming a movie or miniseries - as the women involved seem truly tremendous and worthy of portrayal. There are a lot of interesting characters at play - not only these women, but the doctors who treated them, government/public officials and researchers who investigated the matter, and of course, the businessmen determined to stop the association of radium with these women's horrific ailments.

As an infrequent nonfiction reader, you may take my assessment of the riveting nature of the book with a grain of salt. If nonfiction is your style, I would try this on for size.
Was this review helpful?
WOW. I have  struggled writing this review, forming words that do the book justice. It is Heartbreaking, yet powerful. The cruel reality showing the evil side of capitalism, illustrating the worst form of corporate greed there is. When innocent lives are destroyed and scientific evidence is pushed under the rug and denied, just for profit. Through the girls stories, I was reminded to always question everything,  especially when it comes to your health. 

The book follows the lives of Radium factory workers, who painted radium watch dials in the early 1920s with the beautiful and new self-luminous paint. They were told that the paint was harmless, and told to "point" their  brushes daily with their tongues, ingesting it. The girls started becoming sick, but the company kept denying that Radium was to blame, even destroying evidence.

I was engrossed in each girl's story. I was heartbroken, seeing them naively taken advantage of. I cried with them, got angry with them, and I  became their ally, emotionally invested in their battle against the company that ruined their lives. I never heard of  "The Radium Girls" before I started reading this book, and now I will never forget them
Was this review helpful?
I didn't put this down. I've bought three copies to gvie away two. This is every bit as good as Hidden Figures and Rise of the Rocket Girls.
Was this review helpful?
I had to keep reminding myself that Moore had not written a piece of fiction and that indeed the events in the book took place and the people mentioned lived through them. History is largely dependent on those who get to tell it and for those who don't... there is no history for them that they can own. Moore's writing is beautiful hence the confusion of fiction or non-fiction. I believe that had the Radium Girls lived they would have loved her writing of their lives. This is an important book and has lessons for human kind of epic proportions. Climate change deniers should read this book! It causes the reader to give pause and internalise the world they live in and their own lives. I highly recommend this book and will ensure I get as many people to read it as possible - it is that important and timeless. Every library should have one; personal and public. Thank you NetGalley, Kate Moore and Sourcebooks for the access and opportunity to discover this book and the important history it holds. Special thanks to Moore for paying tribute to the Radium Girls (I feel like the name would have been bitter-sweet for them).
Was this review helpful?
Fascinating look at the physical and legal plight of the young women hired to paint watch faces and aircraft gages with radium paint. A great look at the background of the establishment of OSHA and worker safety across the US. 

The writing was very good, with Kate Moore drawing the reader right into the women's stories and emotions. 

Highly recommended!
Was this review helpful?
The Radium Girls starts off strong and is deeply fascinating. Who knew radium was lethal? Well, no one at the time. The author certainly does her research but I found myself bored near the end, it sort of just fizzled out. I got lost with all the names of all the women. Would totally recommend though if you interested in the history and don't need a page-turner!
Was this review helpful?
It was so hard to read this and not at least tear up at all the pain, suffering, and obstacles these women had to endure. Again and again they were shot down and dismissed by their own company, their own town, their own people but they never gave up. They kept fighting because they knew they were right despite what others were saying and they knew they had to make it known how dangerous radium is so that others wouldn't suffer as they did.  

Extremely well researched and absolutely gripping. I'm sure not many people even knew about these girls and how much they helped not only during the war but even decades and decades after that. After studying these women to find out how radium effects the human body, scientists were able to better able to understand a slew of things they never even considered could even happen. It's sad that we don't learn about these brave dial painters and how they impacted us and continue to impact us. 

I highly recommend reading this book. I was hooked and could not wait to read through the radium girls' journey to find justice.
Was this review helpful?
Wow. That's pretty much all I have to say. This book was phenomenal. I'm sorry to say that I had never really heard about any of this before starting the book, which makes it all the more obvious why we need more books like this. This is a very important story in our nation's history, I believe, and I definitely think more people need to become aware of it.

Even if you don't typically read nonfiction, I think you should pick up this book. It held me captivated the whole time. The writing is rich and detailed, making you feel in the story. At the same time, it is a lot to process, and so it was one that I read slowly, savoring.

There are few books that have made me tear up, but this makes the top of the list. The author goes in depth to the plight of these women and how they suffered, and it will make you feel the whole range of emotions. Anger, heartbreak, sadness. At the same time, this is a book of hope. These women are such an inspiration with how strong they were, how they continued to fight even in so much pain. I highly recommend this one to everyone.
Was this review helpful?