A New York Times Best Book of the Year
A Time Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence Winner
One of NPR’s Best Books of 2019
Journalist Adam Higginbotham’s definitive, years-in-the-making account of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster—and a powerful investigation into how propaganda, secrecy, and myth have obscured the true story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest disasters.
Early in the morning of April 26, 1986, Reactor Number Four of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station exploded, triggering history’s worst nuclear disaster. In the thirty years since then, Chernobyl has become lodged in the collective nightmares of the world: shorthand for the spectral horrors of radiation poisoning, for a dangerous technology slipping its leash, for ecological fragility, and for what can happen when a dishonest and careless state endangers its citizens and the entire world. But the real story of the accident, clouded from the beginning by secrecy, propaganda, and misinformation, has long remained in dispute.
Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews conducted over the course of more than ten years, as well as letters, unpublished memoirs, and documents from recently-declassified archives, Adam Higginbotham has written a harrowing and compelling narrative which brings the disaster to life through the eyes of the men and women who witnessed it firsthand. The result is a masterful nonfiction thriller, and the definitive account of an event that changed history: a story that is more complex, more human, and more terrifying than the Soviet myth.
Midnight in Chernobyl is an indelible portrait of one of the great disasters of the twentieth century, of human resilience and ingenuity, and the lessons learned when mankind seeks to bend the natural world to his will—lessons which, in the face of climate change and other threats, remain not just vital but necessary.
Journalist Higginbotham offers a crash course on the Soviet "Era of Stagnation" and the development of the U.S.S.R. nuclear complex in this busy account of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown. Struggling to unravel the complex story behind the tragedy, Higginbotham piles detail upon detail: the amount of champagne one worker consumed that critical April night; insights into the cultural cravings of Soviet Man ("Dyatlov had fulfilled every autodidactic expectation of the Soviet Man, dedicating himself to his work by day and steeping himself in culture by night") and other tidbits. The result is an exhaustive history that is neither definitive nor harrowing, and repeats much of the mass of information already published on the subject (for example, that Soviet engineers knew of the weaknesses of the reactor model used in Chernobyl and that authorities tried to downplay, even deny, the disaster). Packing in 10-plus years of research and interviews, the author zigzags between cities, countries, and time zones in a disjointed attempt to recreate the doomed reactor's last hours. He devotes dense chapters to the West's reaction, the elaborate cleanup, and the even more complex Soviet cover-up, but fails to provide a deep and clear understanding of the human error and heroism that are at the heart of this story. Readers looking for a definitive account of this disaster may want to look elsewhere.