The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: This is why you shouldn’t eat radioactive materials.

Quick synopsis: The story of the “Radium Girls.” Two groups of women who worked at plants painting materials with a mixture containing radium.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: File this under, “how can people be so stupid?” Radium was seen as a health food for a little while. People drank it. Guess how it turned out!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The Radium Girls are one of the main reasons we know how radioactivity can destroy the body fast or over time. Many submitted to invasive tests for years and donated their bodies after.

My Take: Try and hide your surprise, but this story is about a company trying to screw people over! During and after World War I, there was a huge demand for radium dials, which we know as the watches and gauges which glow in the dark. Well, when they first started making those, they used a mixture containing a small amount of radium. No big deal, right? It’s not like they are eating the mixture.

Actually, the dial painters did. The young women, and they were all young women due to the war, would need to lick their paint brushes to make a fine point to paint with. They’d like their brushes probably a few hundred times over a week.

The dance as old as time then began. The women get sick. The company denies it has anything to do with them. The company tries to cover it up. Women get called whores. Company continues with their shenanigans. Women find a lawyer. Then the real fireworks begin.

The book is really well paced and sad as hell with some triumph scattered in. Moore does a great job of sticking to the story but still keeps a focus on the girls and their hardships.

I don’t think I’ll wear a watch for a while. I’m not sure what makes it glow.

Verdict: Great book which carefully balances tons of details without bogging down the overall story.

If You Liked This Try:

  • John Carreyrou, Bad Blood
  • Harry Markopolos, No One Would Listen
  • Gary Krist, City of Scoundrels
  • Gary Krist, Empire of Sin
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The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
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