Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Published by Sourcebooks, 2017.

Genre:  Nonfiction/History

Rating: 2/5

Kate Moore’s book, Radium Girls has everything you could want in a good story:  industrial crime, villainous corporate leaders, corrupt doctors, deceitful dentists, unsympathetic townspeople, and heroic young women.  Lots of heroic young women who eagerly joined the work force during the First World War, to paint glowing numbers on dials with radium-infused paint.  A job they considered both prestigious and life-saving.

Moore flips back and forth between two companies:  The USRC in New Jersey and the Radiant Dial in Illinois.  Both were prominent employers in their communities, during difficult times.  Both relied on these young women to shape the bristles of a very fine brush dipped in radium paint with their lips, to achieve the fine detail required of the job.  They did this thousands of times in a day, with the assurance from their employers that there was never any danger.

Covered in radium dust, the young women often returned home from work with a ghost-like glow.  They were happy to be employed and eagerly formed strong bonds with their co-workers.  When they began getting sick, initially no one made the connection.  But when the young women began to suspect it was something at work that was the cause of their ailments, no one would listen to them.  Dying, crippled and incapacitated, these women fought their enemies with the ferocious tenacity of wounded animals.  Their story is one of pain, sorrow and incredible sacrifice.  And it is a story that needs to be told.

Which is why I was a little disappointed in Radium Girls.  While based on Moore’s extensive and passionate research, the story is told as a narrative.  Each woman had a different story, a different experience, a different family tree.  In fact, there were so many names that I easily lost track of who was who, minimizing the impact of their individual experience.  I also felt that Moore dedicated a lot of time to simply telling us rather than showing us how to feel.  The result is a rather bland, flat read that makes it difficult to connect with any of the young women.

Too many names to keep track of throughout the story.  Too many cliches.  Too many over-played cliff-hanging-endings to chapters.  Too many boring physical descriptions that prevent us from experiencing what was happening.  Unfortunately, for me, all of these factors tarnish what is truly an amazing story of legendary women that literally changed the way large corporations do business.  So a healthy warning before you proceed, but I still encourage you to read up on this important history in corporate America.

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