Book Review: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
Have you ever read a non-fiction book and thought it to be fiction? If not, then you need to read this book. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women tells the story of the young women who, during the 1910's and 1920's, worked in the clock-making factories, painting the dials for watches, clocks and aircraft instruments. These dials glowed in the dark, allowing soldiers in the First World War to see their instruments in the dark. These women played a vital role in the war effort, and they were paid very well for their work. However, these women suffered greatly for their work: the paint they used on the dials was made with radium, a highly radioactive substance whose properties were virtually unknown at the time.
These eager, happy young women went to work each excited about their jobs. They were told that the paint was entirely safe and that radium was even useful in makeup, creams, and other everyday products. The factory managers taught the girls a special technique to keep the tips of their fine brushes pointed, to ensure that little paint was wasted: Lip, dip, paint. The girls were instructed to lick the tips of the brush, make it into a point, then paint the dials. The girls thought nothing of this, even using the paint to paint their fingernails and eyebrows. When they went home at the end of the day, their clothes and even their skin glowed from the radium particles. It was not until the girls started becoming ill, losing their teeth and eventually jaws, and suffering from serious aches and pains that doctors started to become concerned. Eventually it was determined that the women were suffering from radium poisoning and many of the girls decided to sue their employers. However, the radium companies were not willing to admit that the paint had been the root of the girls' problems, even going so far as to hire "doctors" to examine the girls and refute the claims of radium poisoning. In the end, some of the girls see justice done for them; for most, though, justice came too late.
Moore writes with such feeling and passion that this book reads like a novel. The reader is drawn into every page, every sentence, turning each page with vigor to find out what happens next. Her style of writing is simple and uncomplicated: she simply tells the story of the Radium Girls and their struggle, no frills, no fancies, just the cold hard facts. That's what makes this such and engaging read- that the reader doesn't have to interpret or guess at anything, they can simply read the book and be enthralled at the story. And believe me, it is not an easy story to read. She lets the story speak for itself.
I found myself reading this one slowly, absorbing each page so as to not miss a single detail. The descriptions of what happened to the girls are horrifying to read; beware if you are easily squeamish when it comes to anything medical. What happened to the girls is truly awful, and while reading this book I kept reminding myself: THIS REALLY HAPPENED. It is sometimes truly hard to believe that any of this could happen in real life, that people could treat one another in such a manner, yet all of the book is true.
This book is truly remarkable; it is one of the best history books I have read in a long while, and one I will certainly not forget. The memory of these girls will stay with me forever, and I will always mourn the pains they suffered and the hardships they faced. I recommend this book to everyone- everyone needs to read this book.