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Old 05-17-2018, 09:26 PM   #31
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Thanks, Bookpossum. That's fascinating. Here's an interesting quote I found.

https://gizmodo.com/marie-curies-100...oac-1615847891

Quote:
Marie Curie was basically walking around with bottles of polonium and radium in her pockets all the time. She even kept capsules full of the dangerous stuff on her shelf. "One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products," the Nobel Prize-winning scientist wrote in her autobiography. "It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights."

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Old 05-18-2018, 01:03 AM   #32
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It does seem pretty amazing that she would treat it so casually, doesn't it. I suppose she saw the good it could be used for, and didn't enquire into the damage.

Thanks for the article and quote, Bookworm_Girl.
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Old 05-18-2018, 04:01 AM   #33
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It does seem pretty amazing that she would treat it so casually, doesn't it. I suppose she saw the good it could be used for, and didn't enquire into the damage.
At the time of her exposures the risks were not understood - if we time her main work by the times of her Nobel prizes they were in 1903 and 1911 (so well before the Radium Girls, for example). Very early days in nuclear physics. She actually lived until 1934 dying at age 66 so quite a good age for then and not as if she spent a short life stricken by acute radiation sickness as some might imagine: cases of acute radiation sickness were not really able to be studied until the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were observed (and from 2 separate fatal accidents at Los Alamos shortly after).

Her husband Pierre was similarly exposed so any risk they may have suspected was shared, he was killed in a road accident in 1906 though (he shared the 1903 Nobel with Marie).

Wow, my university A pass in the History of Modern Physics has had some use at last :-).
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Old 05-18-2018, 09:43 AM   #34
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Yes, agreed in the early days. But by the 1920s and 1930s people were realising the dangers of radium. They just weren't admitting them, at least in the case of the women written about in The Radium Girls.

And I do find it extraordinary that she would "never really admit the health risks of radiation exposure." Okay, that was from Wikipedia, but it had good footnotes.

Good to see you, AnotherCat. I hope you will read the book and join in the discussion about it.
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Old 05-18-2018, 10:33 AM   #35
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I imagine Marie Curie didn't suffer as badly as the girls because she wasn't constantly ingesting it, or painting against the thin protection inside her mouth. While she may not have imagined any urgent health issues (and why should she when none appeared for her that might not have been as easily explained by one of the myriad other weird and wonderful things she had handled in her life), a degree of care is habitual in laboratories - of the sort you rarely find in factory workspaces.

Context is one of the things that makes it easy to misinterpret the situation presented in the book. In her defence, the author does make some of this apparent, but she also seems to have a tendency to be foreshadowing an inherent evilness in the attitudes of those she is drawing in the black hats. For example:

"From their point of view, Irene was an orphan, anyway, whose parents had died young; with a genetic inheritance like that, she was probably never long for this world."

Where did that come from? Is there some real paperwork to suggest this is really what the unnamed owners of "their point of view" were thinking, or is this just priming us to be ready to hate them?

I'm not going to be surprised that some of these people turn out to be a@#@#$@#s, the world has enough that we expect to see a fair smattering of them around, but many of them - I suspect - might be people that got painted into a corner by the circumstances, and having no good way out, fought on the ugly side rather than admit error or defeat. It would not be the first time.

I'd also add that a capitalist society encourages such results; the people in charge of business not only need a certain sort of predisposition to have attained their positions, in many situations they are under legal obligations to shareholders and so on. (We saw a sample of this with mention of an executive handling out $5 in compensation for stained laundry; quickly squashed because of the potential total cost.) And what exactly is a company supposed to do if admitting the worst means they face extinction? It's sort of prick-by-nature merges with prick-by-law (apologies to my fellow business owners out there).

I shouldn't really write more (or even what I have) until I've read more of the book, but I seriously doubt if this book is going to give me a good look at things from the other side - it seems to have made very little attempt so far. We get told of "Sabin von Sochocky’s one-off warning to Grace Fryer", which I envisage will be held up as proof that the authorities knew radium was a health hazard, but are we seriously trying to suggest that Sabin von Sochocky understood the real risks? And all these people described as loyal to the company I can envisage are going to try and defend what seems indefensible. But it's harder for the reader to put a book read over a few days in the real context of events spanning many years. What seems so obvious with 20-20 hindsight would not have seemed so clear at the time, and by the time the reality hit many had already taken their stand and would be reluctant to move from that.

From our safe distance in time, with our excellent education and communication systems that have let us know about so many examples of such situations, it is easy to say: they should have looked harder sooner. But back then? So far (page 90) the events seem to be playing out pretty much as we might expect given the times.

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Old 05-18-2018, 10:30 PM   #36
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Yes, agreed in the early days. But by the 1920s and 1930s people were realising the dangers of radium. They just weren't admitting them, at least in the case of the women written about in The Radium Girls.

And I do find it extraordinary that she would "never really admit the health risks of radiation exposure." Okay, that was from Wikipedia, but it had good footnotes.

Good to see you, AnotherCat. I hope you will read the book and join in the discussion about it.
Gidday Bookpossum.

I have a copy of Kate Moore's Radium Girls (there is an earlier book with the same title which I will mention) which I had a scan through sometime after I got it a year or so ago. But I did not read it as it was a narrative, not in itself a bad thing but it contained obvious fictional embellishments (which others have alluded to) in order to popularize it. The moment such is so its contents for me become unreliable and can cause wonder as to what the author's motives were in adding them (she is a prolific populist writer).

I won't be reading it because for me it was not a reliable read and because I have long had a copy of Claudia Clark's reliable Radium Girls written in the late 1990's (but still available). It is written by an academic (sprung out of Clark's earlier doctoral thesis) and is not embellished to be a popular read. It is a long time since I last read it but because of rekindled interest I will do so again.

If Wikipedia claims Curie would "never really admit the health risks of radiation exposure." without softening that with other information then that is stretching the bow to infer she did not recognize even the potential (but, in fact, there is a contradiction in Wikipedia, see below). As early as 1920 when she was first suffering from cataracts and tinnitus she wrote in a letter to her sister Bronya "Perhaps radium has something to do with these troubles, but it cannot be confirmed with certainty" - we now know that these illnesses can be caused by radiation (in the case of cataracts by non ionizing radiation too, I am sure many Australians are with familiar with the now known relationship between them and UV exposure from sunlight). But that does not mean that hers were, just that with current knowledge we can say it was likely so.

Other evidence that Curie recognized that the radiation caused harm and did not deny that is that it was known for sure (by easy experiment) that radiation from radium, for example, caused skin burns and was used (as were x-rays, an indirect ionizing radiation) for removal of skin lesions including cancerous ones. As far as I am aware she actually promoted that use so was well aware of and recognized that radiation caused biological damage.

In Susan Quinn's biography Marie Curie: A Life there is a very good section on Curie's recognition of the dangers of radiation. It is well worth a read if one has access to it, but the guts of it is that she recognized the risks and stated so, but at times she was reticent to state them. The section describes why that was so. I am not sure if it is that biography or another that I recall claimed that even at the Radiation Institute where she worked up until her death in 1934 (I think she was there 'til almost the end) there was little understanding of the health risks from radiation. A possible correlation was recognized (there had even been several deaths) but no dependence.

The first sentence of the same Wikipedia paragraph that ends with Curie never really acknowledged the health risks of radiation exposure, Wikipedia states The damaging effects of ionising radiation were not known at the time of her work, which had been carried out without the safety measures later developed. So there is a contradiction there, if one was to accept Wikipedia then there is no way she could have acknowledged something Wikepedia says was not known at the time, so for one claim or the other they are wrong.

It also comes to mind that in the early decades of the last century there was a prevalence of illnesses and deaths to confound the identification of links between disease and radiation. For example, TB (consumption) was very common with a high mortality rate and causes lesions on internal organs (Curie suffered such lesions, but these were common among even those who never knew they had ever had TB - my father had the same, just picked up in an examination for an unrelated illness, it was assumed he had TB during the war years 15-20 years before but never knew it), anemia was common (especially among women) and Curie died from aplastic anemia which we now know may be caused by exposure to radiation.

I hope that adds something useful, even though I have only scanned the topic book and that not recently.

John

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Old 05-19-2018, 12:29 AM   #37
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Thanks AnotherCat - interesting information there, including the earlier book by Claudia Clark. I was certainly one of those irritated by the many fictional embellishment of Moore's book.
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Old 05-19-2018, 12:30 AM   #38
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gmw - good points and I shall be interested to hear what you think when you have finished the book.
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Old 05-19-2018, 02:06 AM   #39
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I've reached the end of part one and thought I'd add some comments - partly in reaction to what AnotherCat said about the author being a "populist writer" - as that really is an impression that has gotten stronger the more I've read.

As the first part progressed I was getting more and more frustrated by the way the author constantly described the girls' situations in full and sympathetic detail, while always painting the other side in much less personal terms and with deliberate allusion to suggest that they explicitly didn't care for the girls' fate. Things are rarely that simple.

One contrasting example is one of the girls had a father who also worked for USRC but didn't want to kick up a fuss and risk getting fired because he needed the job. We're supposed to have sympathy for this father who is acting as he does for financial reasons, but we're not to have sympathy for the people running USRC who might have been acting deceitfully also for financial reasons.

I say "might" because quite likely some of these people sincerely believed there was no problem with radium (just as some today sincerely believe human activity has not impacted climate). Several of the embellishments around Roeder would seem to hint that he cackles manically when we're not watching, but it's much harder to get that sense from the quoted material. I cannot but feel that the author is only telling me what she wants me to hear.

Which is NOT to say there wasn't a problem and the girls had nothing to complain about. I just think the author is giving me a very one-sided view of the situation. Perhaps, since it is so obvious, it was intentionally one sided, and in being so obvious maybe it's not supposed to be a real problem?

But we've now reached the point in the book where it seems the evidence is clear and unambiguous - but, as I suggested in my previous post, some people have already taken positions that they will find very hard to back away from, regardless of the evidence.
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Old 05-19-2018, 09:44 AM   #40
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I say "might" because quite likely some of these people sincerely believed there was no problem with radium (just as some today sincerely believe human activity has not impacted climate).
Such people get no pass, sincerity notwithstanding. It's incumbent on anyone to look at the evidence. There's far too much even now of people saying, "I'm entitled to my opinion" and "My opinion is as good as yours." Well, no you're not and no, it isn't, not if you haven't looked at the evidence and come to a reasoned conclusion. Wishful thinking (and in reality, intentional duplicity) can't be excused on the basis of sincerity.

I have no problem with popular history and the pity here is that Moore had done abundant research and could have made the same points without the window dressing, which by the same logic calls into question all of her statements.

For me, the bottom line is that at some point, and fairly early on as girls were picking pieces of their jaws out of their mouths, they knew. This is where I can't give them a pass; they continued to expect their workers to ingest radium. That by stopping pernicious practices they'd be tacitly admitting both to the truth and to culpability was the only moral position possible. For those individuals who decided that his own well-being was more important than the lives of the girls there is no excuse that holds.

As to the popular history aspect of this, it seems to me that this was always couched more as a media event in the US than as history. Unlike in the UK where it seems to have been favorably reviewed, the serious press in the US mostly didn't review the book - the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, for some examples. It was publicized with author Q&As but not reviewed. After having read it, I wonder if that wasn't an editorial choice; a standard review would have had to be more judicious in evaluating the book as history to the detriment of discussing the human impact.

Again, even as popular history, the book would have benefited mightily from decent editing. It could have addressed the worst flights of fancy, for one thing. But there were other irritating aspects of the writing style as in Moore's liking for paragraphs composed of a single sentence fragment, e.g.:

Quote:
No action whatsoever.
Quote:
Until now.
Quote:
All this death.
I was frequently arrested by an injudicious choice of word or phrase. This would include Moore's use of Briticisms such as gramophone. She referred to New York as the Big Apple 50 years before the epithet became general and which had a flippant tone at odds with the material. She indulged in absurdities such as:

Quote:
Sometimes the Lord moves in mysterious ways.
Huge eyeroll there. And:

Quote:
It was always wise, he considered, to keep your friends close - but one should always keep one's enemies closer.
Gee, did she think that one up?

And yet, and yet. I can't help thinking that we ignore such stories at our peril. The Radium Girls in addition to being a compelling story in itself, strikes me as an effective if flawed means of getting people to think perhaps a little more critically at how the already disadvantaged are used and abused and about the power of corporations and government entities. I wish it were better, but in a way I think we have the luxury of picking it apart here as it's already preaching to the choir, so to speak. I don't advocate slanted means of persuasion, but I think the takeaway from this is reasonably true to the facts.
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Old 05-19-2018, 11:25 AM   #41
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Such people get no pass, sincerity notwithstanding. It's incumbent on anyone to look at the evidence. [...]
Sure, but right up until the end of part one in the book (Aug 1925) the evidence was not necessarily clear. They had hundreds of girls through that factory. It was not until years later that the cases began to show up, and these were initially (relatively) few and with a mix of diagnoses. There was much confusion even amid the doctors involved through the early cases. It would have seemed extraordinary that it could have had anything to do with their work from years earlier - especially considering the reputation that radium had been enjoying. (Just because it was a manufactured reputation doesn't mean that the manufacturers didn't believe it - or come to believe it - themselves.)

And that is what I mean about problems really seeing the full context with the way this book is presented. It's perfectly clear to the reader what is going on, but only because we are presented with a cherry-picked collection of cases and few hints on what is happening on the other side. At the time it would have been so easy to misread the situation, even if the management had been unusually well meaning - which doesn't seem the case - and even if sexual discrimination wasn't a factor - which it clearly was.

The real turning point for the USRC, for me, was ignoring the Drinkers' report (June 1924) - the one that USRC themselves commissioned. For many pages the author let us believe the report itself had been ambiguous, and I'm really not sure why she did that, I'm not used to non-fiction deliberately obscuring the facts like that. That the senior management misrepresents the results of this report is the first clear sign of unambiguously wrong doing (it seemed to me). But it is still a report that lacks the crucial evidence found by Martland a year later, so I can easily envisage that someone with a vested interest would want to argue with it.

I don't find the change of procedures (to try and stop the ingesting) to be convincing evidence of anything more than management's desire to appease their critics. I don't think you can read into that that they really believed it would make any difference - after all, no one at this stage even understood the mechanism by which radium was affecting its victims.

Curiously, it is the reading I've done in the last 6 months or so - in relation to fake news and lack of acceptance of science and so on - that has fed some of my interpretation of this book. On the Scientific American and similar websites have been numerous articles about how to argue with people that don't seem to accept what appears to ourselves to be clear evidence. (eg: How to talk to a science denier, but there have been many more.) After reading all these it is easy to see how, a century ago (but probably next century too), people get into a position where they feel that cannot do anything except deny the evidence; the consequences of anything else are too confronting to be borne.

Consider what Roeder was facing on June 1924 when that report arrived. What evidence he had up to this time, while obvious in the book, I suspect in real life would have been seen as inconsistent and unconvincing. So I can easily believe that up to this time he sincerely believed there was no serious threat to the girls from the radium. Then this report arrives.

If he believes it, and knowing of the hundreds (thousands?) of girls that had passed through his factory, he will realise that accepting and admitting it will probably spell the downfall of his company. From a selfish perspective this would be quite frightening, and from a selfless perspective there were many that relied on the USRC, and so himself, for their livelihoods. When confronted with this, it is not a big surprise that he might react badly and even irrationally, and having started down that path it becomes even harder to turn around. I'm not saying he was in the right, but I am saying it is fairly predictable behaviour and - as we've already discussed - not something that has changed since then.

I would have liked to know more about Roeder and how he came to act as he did. But unless the next parts say more than I think is likely, I think his reaction will probably remain opaque. Which is a shame, because understanding his situation and his reaction is the way we might manage to avoid these sorts of situations in the future.

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Old 05-20-2018, 02:24 AM   #42
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I have had a chance to have a bit more of a look at Moore's Radium Girls. Essentially, from a academic point of view it is junk and I would be tempted to put it into the class of an emotionally driven historical novel closely tied to some narrow aspects of real events. The dialpainters come across to me as being her useful characters to fulfill her agenda.

I won't get past the Prologue with my comments, it would take too long. In that Moore relates a story about a scientist who in 1901 accidently carried a vial containing some radium in his vest pocket (it would have been a fraction of a gram) for the entirety of his journey across the Atlantic. Who is this scientist and what is the purpose of mentioning it? She doesn't say (maybe she expands on it later, I wouldn't bother to read the book to find out). I assume she means us to think that event is the discovery of the fact that radiation from radium burns the skin, else without identifying the person and the context she is just relating useless information to pad out a novel.

In fact the main actors in the discovery that radiation from radium burns the skin are Giesel, Walkoff and Henri Becquerel. Becquerel was the discoverer of spontaneous radioactivity in last half of the 1890s and he is well known (he shared the 1903 Nobel with the Curies). Giesel and Walkoff's reports were due to intentional self exposure of skin to radium (strapped to arm), however Becquerel's burn was accidental and due to carrying radium in his jacket (Moore's "vest" reference, perhaps?) pocket and is a frequently related event. It was in 1901; is this what she is referring to, if she is, well Becquerel only had it in his pocket for a few hours, not for the time of an Atlantic crossing (and also, as far as I know, was not crossing the Atlantic).

There may well have been some event as Moore describes but does not seem to want to tell what the guts of its relation is. If it is meant to give some message as to when the damaging properties of radium was discovered then she is a year out as Walkoff's work (and I think Giesel's too) was in 1900. I can find no reference by a text search on name in the book for any of Giesel, Walkoff or Becquerel.

Insofar as a text search is concerned I could also find no other reference to 1901 except in the Epilogue when Moore states after ‘Every family has sadness and grief,’ Jean said steadily. ‘But Margaret’s death was unnecessary.’ that That was the tragedy. Radium had been known to be harmful since 1901. Every death since was unnecessary. In fact radium was known to be harmful in 1900 and in 1901 it was known to be so only to a very small group of scientists and then only that it burnt skin, not killed people. To extrapolate from knowing something causes harm by burning skin, as even many everyday things do, to it should have been known to cause deaths is an extraordinary claim. Where it did lead was to the use of radium for medical purposes such as removing malignant tumors (which grew into the radiotherapy used today).

I have pulled out Claudia Clark's book and have had a browse (it is promoted to next on my reading list) and have to say that Moore's book reads very poorly and engenders no confidence as to fact in comparison. Clark's book is from a history academic who worked in the industrial safety field (unfortunately she died relatively young). Despite that it is a very easy read. It takes a sociopolitical approach identifying where the issues lay, why people and organizations acted as they did (she is also quite expansive on the role of women and their vulnerability in work at the time) and without emotive drama or propaganda. It also brings in as adjuncts other chemical related industry harm in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Finally, I have clipped 3 paragraphs from the Introduction in Clark's book regarding mortality and morbidity rates among the dialpainters (in the book they are referenced to source) as it may give context for those interested. Apart from emotive references (mainly with respect to the fates of her "characters") I did not see, but may have missed, data on these in Moore's book.

Spoiler:
Ascertaining the extent of mortality and morbidity among the dialpainters is difficult. Medical studies of these women have focused on the occurrence of cancers. Cancers definitely attributable to radium (the bone cancers and the "head cancers") thus far have been found only in dialpainters who worked before 1927; after that, safety precautions seem to have been effective enough to prevent those kinds of cancers. Of the 1,600 identified workers in the pre-1927 cohort, 63 contracted bone cancer and 23 more developed cancer specifically of the nasal sinuses or mastoid cavities 86 cancers in all, or an incidence rate of 5.4 percent. Data on other cancer deaths possibly caused by radium exposure are still controversial, but dialpainters may also have died from breast cancers, lung cancers, and bone marrow tumors (multiple myeloma).


Spoiler:
Early dialpainters died from illnesses other than cancer. The first deaths attended infections of dead bone and other tissues in the jaw ("necrosis" of the jaw) and anemia. Death from such causes seems to have been confined to the earliest dialpainters and has not been studied since the 1920s and 1930s. We have only limited evidence of how many dialpainters may have died from anemia and jaw necrosisand no figures as to how many suffered from such maladies but survived. In 1929 the U.S. Department of Labor identified twenty-three fatalities attributed to radium poisoning, and cancer was implicated in none of these: cancer was first reported in two deaths among New Jersey dialpainters in 1929. By 1931 eighteen women in New Jersey were known to have died from radium poisoning, thirteen from radium diseases not involving cancer and five from cancers. By 1940 fifteen women in Connecticut were known to have died, six from illnesses other than cancer and nine from cancer.


Spoiler:
Noncancer deaths seem to have had a negligible impact on the overall mortality data. Of 1,235 workers employed before 1930, expected deaths by 1976 were 461 and actual deaths were 529 (before age eighty-five), or 68 excess deaths, or 5.5 percent. With the incidence of bone, sinus, and mastoid cancers among the 1,600 known dialpainters who worked before 1927 calculated at 5.4 percent, it is likely that deaths from noncancerous industrial diseases only minimally affected the population from an aggregate perspective. For the first six years following the discovery of radium poisoning, however, such effects as anemia and jaw infections caused most of the deaths and sparked most of the fears among dialpainters.

Last edited by AnotherCat; 05-20-2018 at 03:02 AM. Reason: typos
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Old 05-20-2018, 07:41 AM   #43
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I won't get past the Prologue with my comments, it would take too long. In that Moore relates a story about a scientist who in 1901 accidently carried a vial containing some radium in his vest pocket (it would have been a fraction of a gram) for the entirety of his journey across the Atlantic.
No she doesn't. The scientist is in Paris travelling to London "across the sea". So the English channel not the Atlantic.
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Old 05-20-2018, 10:25 AM   #44
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I have had a chance to have a bit more of a look at Moore's Radium Girls. Essentially, from a academic point of view it is junk and I would be tempted to put it into the class of an emotionally driven historical novel closely tied to some narrow aspects of real events. The dialpainters come across to me as being her useful characters to fulfill her agenda.
Popular history serves a legitimate purpose and ought not to be dismissed as junk (no one's claiming this is academic history) and it's certainly not a historical novel. I also think the phrase "emotionally driven" is a loaded term tending to be used to disparage woman writers. As for the dial painters being useful characters, well, of course they were! There's nothing inherently wrong with telling the human side of a story. Raw numbers in the end don't convey the suffering of the individuals as much as pertinent details from individual accounts.

I think of history books as being on a continuum - popular to serious to academic. There is a point to popular history and one of them is readability; I can't say the paragraphs you cited were what I'd call page-turners. In fact, Radium Girls appears to be heavily researched and we've already discussed and deplored the author's tendency to go too far in her stage-setting, especially as she had the information from the personal accounts and a knack for telling a story. The book should have been better, but it's far from worthless.
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Old 05-20-2018, 12:18 PM   #45
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I've finally finished The Radium Girls. I've only skimmed the posts here and want to go through them before I make any substantive comments, but for now, I'll say that I found the book compelling and I'm glad I read it.
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