March 7th, 2018

spock: logic is sexy

Book Review: Radium Girls

Title: Radium Girls: The Dark History of America's Shining Girls by Kate Moore

Genre: Narrative Non-fiction

The story: Americans once viewed radium as a "wonder element" that could cure almost any illness. It was used in countless inventions, including paint to make glow in the dark watches for soldiers in World War I. While the scientists at the paint factory took precaution, the female painters were encouraged to use their mouths to hone radium-dipped brushes into fine points for painting tiny watch faces. They allowed radium dust to fall on their clothing. They used leftover paint to create glowing designs on their faces and even their private parts -- all without a word of warning from the factory owners who employed them.

My review: I was riveted by the medical drama of diagnosing the women's myriad illnesses and the legal drama of getting compensation from their employers. The glimpses into women's lives in the twenties were equally fascinating - not just the factory workers, but the whole hidden array of women in the medical and legal professions who eventually helped them. Occasionally the prose is overwrought, but not enough to get in the way of the subject matter. Sensitive readers should beware that some medical content is graphic, and there are disturbing medical pictures in the middle of the book.