I've been so lucky with the books I've read this year. I already have a bunch of contenders for top ten of 2017 -- and it's only April! I'm not a big non-fiction reader, so it's high praise to say that The Radium Girls is on the short list for best reads of 2017. The Radium Girls is, essentially, the story of a great injustice. I'll freely admit that I had no knowledge of the history behind this book before reading, but now that I know better I can't stop relaying the story to anyone willing to listen.
Incredibly well-researched, and told with a narrative tilt that makes for a captivating read, The Radium Girls tells the story of the women who worked in radium-dial factories across the U.S. during World War I and beyond, carefully painting much-needed military clock faces with a luminous paint made from radium. In that time period, radium was being hailed as a miracle element. It's tumor-blasting powers had recently been discovered, and medical professionals and marketing firms were taking advantage of the public's newfound obsession with its health benefits. The military held contracts with these dial-painting factories so that they could ensure their soldiers and pilots could read their clock faces, as the radium-laced paint shone brightly in the dark. That luminous paint earned these women the nickname "the shining girls," and along with it an elevated status in society. It turns out that working in the radium-dial factories was one of the best jobs that a woman could have in that time -- it paid well, there were social benefits, and there didn't appear to be any downsides. That is, until the girls started to get very sick.
Here's my disclaimer for this book: if you have a sensitive disposition, this might not be for you. The descriptions of the girls' suffering was pretty detailed and graphic. I was chatting with my boss about the history behind the book one day and when I finished relaying just a few of those graphic details he asked me why in the wold I wanted to read about that (valid question, I'll admit) and I replied that it was like watching a train wreck -- terrible, but I couldn't look away.
I might have had a sort of fascination with the medical decline of the girls while reading, but what really kept me interested was the girls' quest for justice. I won't give away the big parts of the story, but I will say that if you have an interest in social justice, this is the book for you. These women were faced with incredible pain, deceptive doctors, greedy corporations -- and yet, they kept fighting for their rights. It's largely thanks to them that we have protections against occupational hazards, because while their jobs were touted as the best out there, their work actually poisoned them. Highly recommended (even for those who don't usually read non-fiction like myself), and absolutely a good pick for a book club read, The Radium Girls is one book that you'll want to put on your to-read list this year.
This title will be released on May 2, 2017.
Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5
Title: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
Author: Kate Moore
Publisher: Sourcebooks, 2017
Price: Pre-order for $17.99
Source: Net Galley
Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!