Book review: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls:
The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
by Kate Moore
Narrated by Angela Brazil
Sourcebooks – 404 pages
HighBridge – 15H52

Buy the book on my Bookshop

This is a horrifying story.
Let me tell you why.

This is about what happened to many young women –some were even teens– when they were hired to work at the Radium Dial Company. With their bosses knowing about the dangers of the substance but assuring them that radium was fine, that it would even give them rosy complexion!

They kept lying to their employees for decades, including in many trials.

The author did a fantastic background research to tell the story, for the first time, from the perspective of these women.

But I found the tone actually a bit dry.
Some descriptions were really terrible, so be ready: lots of pus and jaw bones falling into the mouths of the victims, among many other examples.

One incorrect thing: the author describes scapulars as Christian talismans.
Obviously the author has no knowledge in Christian culture, which has nothing to do with the world of talismans. A scapular is a devotional item, it has no connection with objects supposed to have magical powers.

I used an audio credit to listen to the book. This is the only reason I really kept going. The narrator Angela Brazil has a very harsh tone that kept getting on my nerves.

If you are interested in this story, read the book instead of listening to it.

One final thought:
the last chapters are really the only hopeful pages, where you see how the sad fate of these women and their courage helped draw safety measures for subsequent and current industry workers. Without their unintended sacrifice, who knows how long it would have taken to really realize the (very) long damage caused by radium to all living creatures. An to set up protection laws for all workers.

And a disturbing thought:
Sixteen areas in Ottawa, Illinois (where one factory was located) are obviously still radioactive today. It’s quite disturbing to see that people are allowed to build there today –homes, public areas, and schools! How come this is still going on?

VERDICT:  A horrifying tale. Great research but dry style. And dry narration for the audiobook performance.


How about a hopeful nonfiction book recommendation for a change?


23 thoughts on “Book review: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

  1. This does sound horrifying! I wish the narrator had been better for you. If I ever read this, I would buy a copy of the physical book. Thanks for sharing!


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  3. I don’t often listen to audiobooks, for one thing I usually read faster than the narrator reads and often I don’t like the narrator’s voice. So I’ll be reading an e-book copy. At the moment I can’t think of a hopeful nonfiction book to recommend.


    • Most audiobook narrators are fabulous – you can also increase the speed of the narration, which I often do. I usually try a sample before checking out an audiobook or using a credit, that was stupid for me not to try ahead for this one!


  4. I hadn’t heard of this but have just read an article in a Chicago newspaper which gave me more details. It was astonishing that even though this company was found guilty of causing harm, the president just closed it down and started another firm doing almost the same kind of work


  5. We’ve all heard of the way employers lied to workers and put them in harms way, so I guess this must have been interesting as well as terrifying.

    You are right about the scapulars and when I come across something like that, I keep wondering how much of the stuff that I don*t know anything about is really true.

    But it sounds like a good book. I once read one by Arlie Hochschild Russell, Strangers in Their Own Land which was also about people who were exploited by companies. Only, the ones she met were not as smart and heroic as these women.


    • “I keep wondering how much of the stuff that I don*t know anything about is really true”. Thanks for saying it. It was in the back of my mind for this book after I hard her thing on the scapular. My review is already quite negative, so I refrained from adding this. I think she did some serious research, as she talked also to family members, so I hope she got as close as possible to the truth.


  6. Thanks for your review. Sounds like an interesting subject that could have been covered better. When I’m already on the fence about a book and the author makes a blatant mistake, which in this case is simple enough to get right, I usually can’t be bothered to finish. Bravo for sticking it out.


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