Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Review: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Radium. It's the wonder chemical that glows in the dark. For years, in the early 20th-century clock and watch dials were hand painted with a mixture that included radium to allow the numbers and hands to glow. They were handy to own and almost essential for military personnel. The factories that painted the dial hired women to painstakingly paint each dial by hand. Using fine pointed brushed, each painter would take their brush and dip...lip...brush and then repeat over and over every work day. To get such a fine point on their brush they would use their lips to wet the brush to a fine point. They were told time and again that radium was harmless and was even good for your body. Brush it on your teeth for a bright white glow. Amaze your boyfriends with glowing lips using a little radium to spread on like lipstick. These women would come home looking luminescent from the paint spatters on their body from a hard days work. It was great money and as long as it was safe, the women continued to work and enjoy the camaraderie with their fellow painters.

Companies like the United States Radium Factory quite knowingly lied to these women to make a substantial profit. Many if not all of the companies management and scientific team knew that radium could be harmful and possibly deadly. They kept the truth hidden to keep the women working and supply a product that was in demand. After several women became severely ill and in some cases, died, legal action against the companies involved was filed and a fight began.

Kate Moore tells the story of these women from their viewpoint from the early days of dial painting through the litigation and aftermath. Like any radioactive component, the harmful effects of the poison lives on for many years, in some cases 1600+ years. These brave women fought for justice and for workplace safety. They literally gave their lives for industry-wide reform and rights for those affected by radiation poisoning. Moore pulls the reader into their lives and gives them a voice that cannot be ignored.

It is easy to see why Radium Girls has received the accolades that it has. I hope Moore will find another subject to delve into.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew

An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejet van der Zijl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title of this book would be more appropriate as "The Many Loves of Allene Tew." This book is more about the people that surrounded Allene than it is about herself. Through most of the book, Allene is a secondary character. Allene Tew was a young woman from the late 19th century who came from a pioneering family and married into a higher social status. Although her first husband was from a wealthy family, he was not highly regarded and less so once he married the young woman from the country. Her husband Tod Hostetter was the first in a long line of husbands. Each marriage seemed to edit her social status, not always for the better and she eventually wed a Dutch prince and a German count. She suffered some tragedies in life but also found sources of great love and strength.

I wanted to like this book but I felt that Tew was a very one-dimensional character. I never felt that we truly got to know her. Most of the book was dedicated to the men in her lives, giving the reader great details of their rise and fall in society. The book also seemed to be more of a history lesson on life during the periods that Tew lived. This information was at times very elementary and even repetitive. The reader learned more than once that John Jacob Astor died on the Titanic.

Although this was a non-fiction book, I think it would have been more enjoyable as a historical fiction story and the author could have envisioned Tew's character and thoughts. The way the book came across was more of "here's the facts." Tew did this and then did this based on newspaper articles and genealogical records. I do wonder how much of the flatness of the story and the elementary discourse was due to the translation from Dutch to English.

All in all, the information was interesting but the overall story just seemed to drag on with the minutia of detail on everyone and everything except Allene Tew. Perhaps the story is more interesting in its native language, but I suspect it comes across the same. This would be a good book for someone not familiar with the Gilded Age through World War I.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the fictional story of the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Hadley Richardson met Ernest through mutual friends and fell immediately in love. Eventually marrying, the two struggled through their marriage and life in Paris, France. Ernest was an up and coming author who was trying to find his way in life. Hadley was very much in love but was troubled with Ernest's constant drinking and philandering.

This was a good story but I struggled at times with the drawn-out stories of bullfighting and day to day life in Paris, so the story dragged at times for me. I was a bit frustrated with Hadley as she came off a bit weak when I think she was stronger than she was portrayed. Not a bad book, but I wasn't engrossed. Love and Ruin is much better, I think.

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