Hi! This post will be about my thoughts on The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. I read this book quite quickly as it was the chosen book for The Girly Book Club and I had gotten distracted by other books (side note: I think everyone should consider joining a book club, they are so much fun!) . I think the reason it took me a while to start reading is because I actually thought I already knew a lot about the subject and so I thought I would find it quite boring.
The story of radium poisoning in factories was well known to me from my undergraduate study days and so I already had quite a good scientific background to what was happening. I knew best the story of Pierre and Marie Curie who discovered the element radium eventually leading to Marie’s death from aplastic anaemia which was caused by the long term exposure to radiation. To be honest I think this scientific knowledge helped a lot as it helped me appreciate the severity of the trauma this must have caused the girls so much more and also helped me get into the book without needing it to explain the science to me first.
Once I started reading I realised this wasn’t a completely typical non-fiction story with lots of facts and figures but was actually a really accessible story of young girls and their lives. I didn’t feel like I was reading about a true story to begin with, it felt more like a fictional book with very well researched character backgrounds. It was when I looked at the photos in the middle of the book that I realised that these characters actually lived and it was all true. This was one of the things that endeared me to the book, the photos of the girls that let me really visualise what was happening and helped me put myself in their shoes as some of these girls were a lot younger than I am now. I can’t imagine what they must have felt, I definitely don’t think I would have been able to cope with the knowledge that I could die at any point because of the incompetence and lack of thought of my employees. The story follows the girls who worked in factories painting clock faces using a radium based paint. Their job involved licking the tips of their paint brushes in order to get a finer finish and so introducing the radium to their mouth. At the time, most people believed radium was extremely beneficial to health and so the girls didn’t question this order. Even when it started to become known in the scientific community about the dangers of too much radium exposure, the companies employing these girls continued to allow this practise and continued to assure the girls of its safety. The fight these ladies put up when faced with outright lying from their employers once they started becoming ill is truly inspirational and I hope their story lives on.
On the whole it wasn’t very scientific but perhaps that was what the author intended, to bring the story to life for those not from a science background. I know that personally I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book quite as much if I didn’t already know some science background to it as I would’ve been wishing for more detail. Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who already knows the science behind radium poisoning as a way to allow you to see the human aspect more clearly. I would also recommend it to anyone without much interest in the science as it is very limited here! The story itself is super important in terms of why health and safety in the work place is so vital and how its so important to trust your instincts when it comes to your own safety! It is not very often that I cry whilst reading but this one brought me to tears at more than one point. It is both an inspirational read and a profoundly sad one at the same time. Hopefully the fight these ladies fought will never have to be repeated. I am so glad I got the chance to read this book which humanised this tragic story in such an amazing way.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4/5