Book Review: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

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

I remember reading about the radium girls as a side bar in The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. The story was fascinating enough as a side bar, but in The Radium Girls, Moore brings these women to life. These girls, some as young as thirteen or fourteen years old, worked painting watch dials with luminescent radium paint. The work was considered to be quite a few steps above common factory work; the work was skilled and the girls were considered lucky to be able to work with the new miracle substance: radium. With our current knowledge, what happened next should surprise no one. The girls began to get sick, many horrifically so. Their battle for compensation from the radium companies would reshape the nature of worker’s rights in the United States.

The Radium Girls is thoroughly researched and impeccably written. The depth of Moore’s work is nothing short of breathtaking. She uses primary sources, including the letters and diaries of the girls themselves, and the reminisces of their families, to give each one a unique, real voice. Moore takes the story from the original girls hired in the manufacturing boom brought on by World War One, through the following decades into the present day. Though it has been one hundred years since radium dials exploded as a wartime necessity, the ripple effect of the fates of the dial painters is still very much felt today.

Moore has done an amazing job with this story. Her careful attention to detail makes these women, who lived and died so long ago, seem real and alive in the pages of the book. Her narrative is both educational and absorbing, making this a great nonficton read even for those who normally avoid the genre. Any fan of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot should read this next.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

  1. I’m likely to finish it tonight with these storms being what they are. I can’t wait to type up my review – but then you’ve probably seen my ranting about it on Litsy. I’ll have to check out these other titles that you’ve mentioned!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely something I’ll look into, then! This book has me completely enthralled… and has made me angrier than any other book I’ve read so far.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I had one of our regulars tell me to stop reading it because I was so angry – and I was so close to hurling my iPad across our hotel lobby. It has kept me awake two nights now.

        Liked by 1 person

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