This story is the very definition of the word fantastic. It is unbelievable. If you enjoyed (though, enjoyed is a strong work) Devil in the White City or Killers of the Flower Moon, buckle up and prepare to be horrified by more actual American history. In the 1898, we discovered radium. It was great! Just neat-o. It glowed, it was heralded as a wonder drug. WHAT. YES. And, the Radium Girls were the lucky women hired to work in factories that used radium-based paint to paint watch dials on watches. And while doing so, they were told to lip point, i.e., dip the brush in radium, PUT IT IN THEIR MOUTHS to get a fine point with the bristles, and then paint. And repeat. They got sick, for some mysterious reason that, according to big radium and the watch companies was definitely, absolutely, NOT FROM RADIUM. Even though, in some instances, they were testing the women to see if they were radioactive, knew they were, AND DID NOT TELL THEM.
While I was reading this book, I was livid. I am finished reading and I am still livid. I have become a woman on a mission who will harangue anyone in earshot about this book, “Um, hey, did you know about this radium thing in the 1920s???” and “HOW IS HUMANITY STILL ALIVE. WE ARE SO DUMB.” And, “Okay, so I had a bad day, but ya know what? I don’t have radium poisoning, or some company lying to me about the fact that they are actively poisoning me.” Suffice it to say this book will be sticking with me.
This is a non-fiction account that really comes alive. In the epilogue Moore discusses the care and diligence that went into her research, how though the horror story of the impact of radium to these factory workers was a known historical fact, their individual stories had never been told. She worked with family members of “the girls” who were happy to see an account from their relatives points of view. They shared diaries, journals, and first-hand accounts of the lives of the women, and what it has amounted to is a riveting story of injustice. Though the women may be gone, they will not be forgotten.