Radium Girls tells the story of the women who discovered first hand that "progress" is not always a good thing. As WWI raged across the globe, girls worked feverishly in plants in northern New Jersey to paint dials with radium paint so that the numbers could glow in the dark. Originally used for military grade projects, as WWI wound down, the uses expanded to anything people would like to see glow in the dark - including their teeth.
The girls who painted the dials were considered to be the luckiest in the area until their mouths began to crumble away from their bodies. The investigations and detective work that would follow would play an important role in the worker's rights movement in America and the founding of OSHA. These often nameless women get their due in Radium Girls, a poignant and engaging book well worth your time.
From a business and leadership perspective, this book is necessary. The owners of the companies were frequently told by experts that the radium was killing the women in excruciating ways, and the companies routinely ignored their advice. They would employ their own experts to tell them what they wanted to hear, at the expense of dutiful employees who were simply doing their job. While we have regulatory agencies to ensure that we are no longer asking our employees to ingest radioactive materials to accomplish their tasks, there are many other ways in which we forget that employees are humans and this book is a great reminder.
I was repeatedly struck throughout my reading of this work at how the bodies of women were sacrificed at the altars of ignorant capitalism. In some of the journals and correspondence that the author uses, it is clear some of the complaints were blown off because they came from women. Their teeth were literally falling out of their mouths, their jaws disintegrating, but they were viewed as being hysterical and were summarily ignored.
This book is well-written, engaging, and a quick read. By using so many personal narratives of the women themselves and putting human faces on the decisions made, there were so many times I felt I could see what was happening before me. The sacrifices made deserved nothing less and Moore was up to the task.