Skip the movie on this one or you’ll be throwing (organic) popcorn on the screen like I was; the movie doesn’t provide this book a modicum of justice. The book however, is a page turner like no other. It offers a glimpse of history not that long ago, of an involuntary sacrifice by hundreds of women who suffered greatly, and yet still stood to the call to help again when all was said and done. Well, it wasn’t really said and done. But you’ll have to read The Radium Girls to the very end to understand what I mean by that. (And while the movie might be good by itself, I watched it after reading the book, and it was not anything like the book. Perhaps the movie and the book only share the same title?)
Our current world is full of machinery, safety standards, and in many cases, well known consequences of certain materials, including radium. In the early 1900’s while the dangers of radium were already being figured out, the lack of safety standards in the work place allowed companies to get away with murder (literally a very slow and painful death for 100’s of women).
What shocked me most about this history was how easily disregarded women in the workforce were, while the company made millions off the hard work of young women (some still in their teens!). No responsibility was taken by the company when these women began to fall ill. And the way the accusations were handled regarding the source of the women’s health problems – oh my.
Not only do you feel the toothaches these women experienced as you flip through the pages, you can almost feel with great regret what these women endured as a result of swallowing radium from using a specific paint brush technique that they were instructed to use. You can also feel the reality of what it must have been like to live through those years as a woman just trying to earn a living, and the challenges set before them in the workforce simply because they were women.
Very well written (and the audio-book is excellent to listen to as well), a piece of history is now recorded that was never properly documented before. If you read until the end through the epilogue, the author describes the desire to capture these women’s lives appropriately, and how she traveled to the very places where these women worked and were exposed to radium. This author absolutely accomplished her goal and offered a glimpse into the lives of these women to the rest of us.
If you’re not angry enough by the end of these women’s plight, keep on reading to the very very end. Because the companies involved not only inadvertently harmed employees, but also an entire town. And were they held responsible? Read the book to find out.
Of note, the physical book offers photos of the women which truly add to the reading experience. So worth picking up the physical copy even if you’re strictly an audio-book reader.
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