The Book’s Basics
Title: The Radium Girls
Author: Kate Moore
Genre: Non-fiction, but told like a story.
Length: 480 pages
Initial Reaction: Anger that women were treated this way, but grateful that working conditions have improved.
This book explores the stories of women who worked as painters in the early to mid 20th Century in The United States. They painted military equipment and watch dials with radium, which is a material that glows in the dark. This was very dangerous, especially as they were encouraged to put the paintbrushes in their mouths.
Many of the painters developed radium poisoning from this job, but they were ignored and their medical conditions explained away – even though there was evidence that radium was dangerous to the human body.
This book explores the experiences of two groups of women and how they fought for justice.
It’s based on a true story, which makes the story both more inspirational and more tragic.
Who would I recommend this book to?
I would recommend his book to anyone who is interested in the time period. The World Wars and the Great Depression are featured, but they are not the focus. There are stories that can be overshadowed by large events, so it is good that other stories are coming out from the first half of the 20th Century.
I would also recommend this book to anyone who is interested in women’s rights. This book focuses on the experiences of white women who worked in a specific job in a couple of locations in the United States, so it is not a comprehensive look into the experience of all women at that time, but it is a poignant exploration of how women, their health concerns, and their working conditions were treated. It gives a glimpse into what could have been happening elsewhere, but specifically that women were not being treated fairly then.
I read this book as part of a book and movie club. I enjoyed the book, although at times it was gruesome, but I didn’t like the movie nearly as much. The movie felt rushed and didn’t feature all of the women in the book. This might have been to make it clearer and to fit within the weight of the film.
They added issues to the movie that weren’t really in the book, such as politics (especially socialism and communism). This is an important issue and it’s good to be explored and be included in popular media, but it felt a bit shoehorned into this particular movie as it didn’t feature in the book. All of the ancient Egyptian references were also a bit strange for a similar reason. As they added these extra bits into the movie but omitted others that were important in the book, it almost felt like a disservice to the original story. There are also strange changes, such as switching Mr. Leech for Mr. Von Sochocky and changing the role that he played in the story. These felt like unnecessary changes.
I did enjoy the aesthetics of the movie.
Writer Craft Notes
I am an unpublished writer, but I would like to be published some day, so when I read a book I am trying to be more aware of the author’s craft and what I can learn from them.
The Radium Girls is primarily a book of non-fiction, but done in a way that makes the people front and centre. She allowed for the characters to come alive. As they were based on real people, it was a very nice thing to see. Sometimes with non-fiction where the events were a long time ago, the people can seem a bit distant also, but these women’s concerns and experiences felt very much real.
Learning to be able to bring this much life to characters would allow for them to feel more real, which would benefit any story.