Review of Radium Girls by Kate Moore rating *****
The book Radium Girls by Kate Moore tells a story of injustice. It’s a story about corporate malfeasance, the role of government and the law, and the struggles of young women terminally affected by radium poising and their efforts to seek justice.
Marie and Pierre Curie first discovered Radium in 1898. They isolated the element in 1902. In the years immediately after the discovery, the belief was that Radium had medicinal benefits. So when the Radium Dial company came up with a paint that took advantage of the luminosity characteristic of Radium, it was believed to be safe. That belief, however, was proven to be wrong.
Executives at the company started to learn of potential adverse effects from Radium. They commissioned an independent report that confirmed their fears. Faced with the possibility of having to close down their business, they prevented the report’s publication. The common practice of workers putting radium-tainted brushes into their mouths continued. Later, when the young women who worked in the factory began showing signs of radium poisoning, company executives and doctors distanced themselves from the issue, denied that there was a problem, and did everything they could to squelch dissenters.
Thus began one of many legal challenges brought by the women, most of whom had suffered greatly from their Radium exposure. The author does a commendable job of bringing to life the disparate parties: the girls, their families, their employer, the lawyers, and medical practitioners on both sides of the issue.
The women ultimately prevail, but in too many instances, it was too little too late.
After finishing the book, I watched the film Radium Girls on Netflix. It is not an adaptation of the book, but it gives you a sense of what it must have been like during that time. I especially liked the inclusion of archival footage.
My recommendation is to read the book and then head on over to Netflix to see the story come to life. If you find this story interesting, you will also find similar stories of injustices in the following books and films: Toms River, The Devil We Know, Dark Waters, and What the Eyes Don’t See.