I’ve been hearing a lot about Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls, and Our Shared Shelf just made it (or The Hate U Give) the May/June book. I’ve not read a lot of nonfiction over the last several years, and I’ve been trying to be more well-read in less-known issues. This book was compelling, but I should warn you, also infuriating.
After the Curies discovered radium, it became enormously popular. Manufacturers used it in paint for watches and dials, and this meant hiring lots of young women to paint these dials. This book is about their story: the fun times working in a relaxed environment; sudden, unexplained illnesses; devastating diagnoses; and painful deaths. The women were treated dismissively and cruelly by their respective companies and exploited by the payrolled doctors. Several women refused to go down without a fight, even if they faced pain and unspoken suffering. This book goes through several phases in exploring their work, and the years of mystery surrounding their illnesses. Finally, the book ends on the women’s legal fight to take their companies to task and get justice for their families.
This book made me angry—not at it, but at the corporate greed, which has been exploiting working-class individuals since industrialization. I think it’s important to hear untold stories and voices of people who were sacrificed because of their innocence. That said, I wish the book had undergone a serious round of edits, as the writing was fairly elementary in style and relied heavily on adverbs in order to convey emotion. Overall, though, it was a worthy and crushing read.
Cross-posted to my blog.