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The Radium Girls: They paid with their lives. Their final fight was for justice. Hardcover – 16 Jun 2016
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'Kate Moore’s new book will move, shock and anger you.' (The Big Issue)
‘This fascinating social history – one that significantly reflects on the class and gender of those involved – [is] Catherine Cookson meets Mad Men . . . The importance of the brave and blighted dial-painters cannot be overstated.’ (Sunday Times)
‘Thrilling and carefully crafted.’ (Mail on Sunday)
‘Heartfelt.’ (Sunday Telegraph)
‘Kate Moore . . . writes with a sense of drama that carries one through the serpentine twists and turns of this tragic but ultimately uplifting story.’ (The Spectator)
‘Fascinating yet tragic.’ (The Sun)
‘Heartbreaking . . . what this book illustrates brilliantly is that battling for justice against big corporations isn’t easy.’ (BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour)
‘A perfect blend of the historical, the scientific and the personal, this richly detailed book sheds a whole new light on this unique element and the role it played in changing workers’ rights. The Radium Girls makes it impossible for you to ignore these women’s incredible stories, and proves why now, more than ever, we can’t afford to ignore science, either.’ (Bustle)
‘Carefully researched, the work will stun readers with its descriptions of the glittering artisans who, oblivious to health dangers, twirled camel-hair brushes to fine points using their mouths.’ (Publishers Weekly)
‘Moore’s harrowing but humane story describes the struggle of a few brave women who took their case to court in a fight for justice that is still resonant today.’ (Saga)
About the Author
Kate Moore is a Sunday Times bestselling writer with more than a decade's experience in writing across varying genres, including memoir and biography and history. She was the director of the critically acclaimed play about The Radium Girls called 'These Shining Lives'.
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Moore's story revolves around dial-painters, girls (some just teenagers) and women employed to paint the numbers on clocks, watches and other instruments using radium-infused luminous paint. Trained to shape the brushes by putting them in their mouths, they ingest quantities of radium, assured by the company that it'll put roses in their cheeks...
It's frightening to see how these young women think it's glamorous to go home with their hands, faces and clothes glowing in the dark - and their innocence at eating lunch at the same tables at which they work with the radium paint. Only later, they start to get ill...
Moore does a fine job of keeping the balance between her big story of corporate lies and cover-ups, and the intimate, personal histories of the 'radium girls' themselves. The accounts of their sufferings are hard-hitting, and we're incensed at the way they are dismissed by fat-cat company directors concerned with protecting their profits, an uncaring burgeoning radium industry, a largely ignorant medical profession and the red-tape of legal bureaucracy that is ill-fitted to deal with their cases.
There are places where Moore's own emotions get the better of her and she inserts emotive asides or trembles barely on the right side of sentimentality - but these are fewer than some of the negative reviews make out and, honestly, this is such a gut-wrenching tale that I could understand and forgive.
Most of all, this is utterly compelling reading - one of those books that I couldn't wait to get back to: a must-read.
As the book is pretty long, maybe the story would reach more people (as it should) if it becomes a proper movie, let's see. I
But, before long, the dial-painters start to experience ailments that just won't go away - bone decay, skin lesions, ulcerations that worsen with any attempt to treat them, confounding the doctors they consult until the common thread of radium is identified. So begins the women's struggle to have radium poisoning recognised as a condition, fighting against the might of the lucrative and powerful radium industry to receive compensation - and the radium industry will go to shocking lengths to cover up the dangers.
Kate Moore's book is a detailed account of the Radium Girls' experience, told partly in a novelistic style, which I felt worked well - the women's characters are brought to life through small imagined details of daily life, against a backdrop of factual information drawn from contemporary material. Moore successfully explains the importance of the women's experience in the wider context of medical science, and attitudes towards nuclear research in the later 20th century, and I think does justice to their tenacity in fighting a legal battle despite many setbacks and unimaginable physical suffering, to create a legacy from which society has continued to benefit.
It is a harrowing read; the illustrations showing the women are particularly sad - one can see all too clearly their frailty, but the story told is important and deserves a wide audience - it would make an excellent subject for a film. I was gripped from start to finish.
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