The Radium Girls is the story of the dial painters who worked with radioactive plaint with no knowledge of how dangerous it was, until they found they were starting to get ill. It is a story of their fight to find justice in a system determined that radium was safe.
I saw a lot of buzz around this book a year or so ago, and it won a goodreads choice award in 2017. It had been on my wishlist for quite some time, but I ended up buying it because it was a kindle deal.
The story itself made me angry and upset, with maybe a little hope. The radium companies were painted like the Mr Burns type company that only care about profit. They were determined to show the world that radium wasn’t dangerous, despite the evidence they had seen from elsewhere. Even as the girls were getting sick they continued to deny that the radium was the cause.
I was also angry at how long it took for something to be done about it, and at how even those not immediately related to the radium industry wanted to deny what was happening.
The girl’s illnesses were not easy to read about. They suffered, greatly, with no possible cure, and all the time they weren’t listened to. To imagine the injuries to teeth and jaws was sort of disgusting and sounded like it would be humiliating if you were suffering,
Moore points out that the suffering of the radium girls was not completely in vain. The knowledge gained from their illnesses and the bodies of those who had died meant that working with radium and radiation could be made safer. However, I became somewhat, possibly irrationally, annoyed at Moore for pointing out that it meant those involved with creating nuclear weapons were kept safe. It felt like Moore agreed with nuclear weapons from the ways she said they helped in ending the war. The knowledge from the radium girls should mean that those weapons should never have been thought possible, because it shows they aren’t just going to affect the people you intend to bomb, but also those around them, and anyone in the area post-bombing. Seeing what the girls suffered should make people not want to see that on anyone, even your enemy.
In terms of the book itself. I found it dragged a little, I feel it could have been stripped down to something like a feature piece in a magazine or newspaper, and it was rather repetitive. I did want to know what happened overall, but little bits in-between were overlaboured, I think. Plus the way Moore had written it as a sort of story seemed like she had used artistic licence, I don’t think she had made facts up but some things I don’t think she can have known, I’m not even sure if people who were there could remember exactly some of the smaller details.
The end was a bit like the end of the Lord of the Rings films, it kept seeming to come to a close, but then didn’t.
A note on the kindle version. It was meant to have photos, but they only seemed to be visible via the picture index at the end. I’m not sure how they would appear in a real book.
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