To say this is a powerful book hardly does it justice. Kate Moore combines the wide variety of topics that tell the story, making it fast-paced and effortlessly readable. The only reason I found it hard to read was because it made me alternately angry, upset, and sad. I have never read another book that exemplified the hashtag #neverthelessshepersisted more precisely.
Radium was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. It was considered a miracle cure-all at the time, and was widely used in all kinds of tonics and treatments. The scientist who co-founded the first company selling luminous radium-painted dials said of it, “What radium means to us today is a great romance in itself. But what it may mean to us tomorrow, no man can foretell.” He had no idea just how much it would mean to the people (mostly women in their late teens and early twenties) who worked to make the company a success.
If you enjoy reading a book about mystery medical diagnosis and treatment, while getting to know the patient, this book is for you. Each “radium girl” has a different experience with her failing health, which makes it that much more fascinating.
If you enjoy a good legal procedural story – true or fictional – this one is for you. The story of the Girls’ legal battles is so hard to believe, you’d think it was fiction. But it’s not.
If you enjoy a book that champions the underdog, this one is for you. These young women were told many times that radium was completely safe, and it was far from that. With a half-life of 1,600 years, it will be here long after we all have gone. No matter what the corporations who profited from it said at the time.
Reading about poisons and chemicals has made me question everything I put on my face, my hair, and my body. Not to mention the food I eat. Understanding toxicity isn’t a story from the past, but a continued concern for today and the future.
I read this book as a digital ARC from NetGalley and Sourcebooks, but I’m definitely buying a finished copy for my shelf.