Summary and book reviews of The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls

The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore X
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2018, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

The incredible true story of the women who fought America's Undark danger.

The Curies' newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these "shining girls" are the luckiest alive - until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women's cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America's early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers' rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the "wonder" substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives...

Excerpt
The Radium Girls

The girls may have been sociable, but they still had a job to do, and if they didn’t knuckle down and do it, they were out. It could be tough. As Katherine Schaub had observed in Newark, the girls were under a lot of pressure. If a worker failed to keep up, she was criticized; if she fell short repeatedly, she eventually lost her job. The only time the girls really saw Mr. Savoy, whose office was downstairs, was when he came to scold them.

The biggest issue was the wasting of the paint. Each day, Miss Rooney issued a set amount of powder to the girls for completing a particular number of dials—and they had to make it last. They could not ask for more, but neither could they eke it out; if the numerals were not sufficiently covered by the material, it would show up during inspection. The girls took to helping each other out, sharing material if one found she had a little extra left over. And there were also their water dishes, filled with the radium...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Radium Girls is filled with both triumph and tragedy. Which part of the story affected you the most, and why?
  2. Is there a figure in The Radium Girls that resonates more strongly with you than others? If so, what part of their story or character stood out?
  3. Even after radium was proved poisonous, and the illness verified as work-related, the radium companies stood fast by their convictions. Why do you believe they were so resilient, and can you imagine modern companies behaving with such similar ruthlessness?
  4. How do you believe the radium companies, and the press, would have reacted differently to the scandal had the workers been male? Considering the time period, how did their gender help and hinder ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Radium Girls.
You can see the full discussion here.


Besides radium, what other world-altering discoveries can you think of that both led to advancement, and also tragedy?
I fail to see how cigarettes ever led to advancement-tragedy, yes. And the way the media projected them as good for you-advertisements claiming more doctors smoked a certain brand of cigarettes. They must be safe if your doctor enjoys them. My ... - darylb

Did one person's actions stand out as particularly shocking and/or evil? Whose behavior was hardest to understand?
Another tie vote for Mr. Reed and Phd-posing-as M.D.-"Dr." Finn. In chapter 25, it was so evil that the increasing lawsuits from the workers led the firm to hire private detectives to follow the girls and look for anything they could use to smear ... - rebeccar

Did you appreciate the chronological presentation of information, moving back and forth between the two different communities impacted? Were you surprised at the amount of time passing?
The story was well told and I was flabbergasted by the number of years that had passed from the beginning to the end. - dianaps

Explore how radium has changed the world in a positive way. Do you feel it was worth the sacrifice?
Needless to say, the advances it made in cancer treatments can not be glossed over. My question is, if the Curries were the scientist that they obviously were, where were the protocols to ensure any negative effects? I don't think that the second ... - dianet

How did it change your appreciation of or engagement with the story to know the smaller, personal details of the girls' lives? Is there another historical event where you've noticed women being pushed to the sidelines?
Of course, the personal stories brought us closer to the pain and suffering these women experienced, which was heart-wrenching. There are too many historical events where women are pushed to the sidelines, but the one I instantly think of, due to a ... - robertm

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

An enthralling drama unfolds as the incredibly ill women testify in court and impassioned lawyers battle it out before judges and the press. The bad guys abound in this horrific tale, from the scientist who knew the lip-pointing practice was dangerous, to the "doctor" who told radioactive women they were "completely healthy," to the corporate vice president who deliberately suppressed medical reports, to the men who fired women as soon as they became obviously ill – as well as many others who put profits above lives. This exceptionally compelling book should appeal to a wide audience, including those who typically don't read non-fiction. I can't recommend The Radium Girls highly enough.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (660 words).

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Media Reviews

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)
A heartfelt...history.

The Sunday Times (UK)
[A] fascinating social history - one that significantly reflects on the class and gender of those involved - [is] Catherine Cookson meets Mad Men...The importance of the brave and blighted dial-painters cannot be overstated.

The Spectator (UK)
Kate Moore ... writes with a sense of drama that carries one through the serpentine twists and turns of this tragic but ultimately uplifting story. She sees the trees for the wood: always at the center of her narrative are the individual dial painters, so the list of their names at the start of the book becomes a register of familiar, endearing ghosts.

Saga (UK)
Moore's harrowing but humane story describes the struggle of a few brave women who took their case to court in a fight for justice that is still resonant today.

Mail on Sunday (UK)
In this thrilling and carefully crafted book, Kate Moore tells the shocking story of how early 20th-century corporate and legal America set about silencing dozens of working-class women who had been systematically poisoned by radiation ... Moore [writes] so lyrically ... Five Stars

Publishers Weekly
Carefully researched, the work will stun readers with its descriptions of the glittering artisans who, oblivious to health dangers, twirled camel-hair brushes to fine points using their mouths, a technique called lip-pointing...Moore details what was a 'ground-breaking, law-changing, and life-saving accomplishment' for worker's rights.

Booklist
Starred Review. Written in a highly readable, narrative style, Moore's chronicle of these inspirational women's lives is sure to provoke discussion-and outrage-in book groups.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Moore's well-researched narrative is written with clarity and a sympathetic voice that brings these figures and their struggles to life...a must-read for anyone interested in American and women's history, as well as topics of law, health, and industrial safety.

Author Blurb Nathalia Holt, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us From Missiles to the Moon to Mars
In describing their heart wrenching struggles and bittersweet triumphs, Moore delivers an intimate portrait of these pioneers. Uplifting and beautifully written, The Radium Girls is a tribute to the strength of women everywhere.

Author Blurb Rinker Buck, author of The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey and Flight of Passage
Kate Moore's gripping narrative about the betrayal of the radium girls-gracefully told and exhaustively researched-makes this a nonfiction classic. I particularly admire Moore's compassion for her subjects and her story-telling prowess, which brings alive a shameful era in America's industrial history.

Author Blurb Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast
Moore sheds new light on a dark chapter in American labor history; the "Radium Girls," martyrs to an unholy alliance of commerce and science, live again in her telling.

Author Blurb Peter Stark, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
Radium Girls is a shocking, heartbreaking story of corporate greed and denial, and the strength of the human spirit in face of it. To read it is to honor these women who unwittingly sacrificed their lives but whose courage to stand up and be heard speaks to us from the grave. It is a tale for our times.

Reader Reviews

Carol Rainer

Very important book
This is one of the most educational books written recently, in my opinion. It was sad how some women went to work for the company in spite of the possibility of being injured in some way. They chanced it because the money was better than most other ...   Read More

vtkt

An Unforgettable Book
This is a book that will stay with you long after the last page. Did your Dad have a wristwatch with a face that glowed in the dark? Mine did. Did your family have an alarm clock with glow in the dark hands--we had two. I wonder where they are now. I...   Read More

RebeccaR

History Made Heartbreaking
I knew I wanted to read this book because I was curious about a part of history which I had not heard about previously, but what I did not expect was to find the book so interesting. I hesitate to call it entertaining because it deals with such ...   Read More

Sandi W.

A story so well researched...
Such a good, but sad book. The investigation that went into this book is astounding. The author Kate Moore had to have spent every single waking minute on this book. To accumulate the facts and discover the court records and newspaper articles from ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Radium: The Dangerously Radioactive Element

The high demand for radium is at the heart of Kate Moore's book, The Radium Girls.

Radium is a naturally occurring element, most of which is found in uranium ore; it makes up approximately 1 part per trillion of the Earth's crust, making it our planet's 84th most common component. One ton of uranium ore can contain as little as 0.14 grams of radium. We're constantly exposed to this highly toxic metal, but in very minute amounts.

Pierre and Marie Curie The element was discovered by Pierre and Marie Curie in December 1898. While working to separate uranium from a mineral called pitchblende, Marie discovered that the material remaining after the uranium was removed was actually more radioactive than the chemical they originally sought. After refining ...

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