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Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize 2018
'An insightful and important book, that often reads like a good thriller, and that exposes the danger of mixing powerful technology with irresponsible politics' - Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens
'As moving as it is painstakingly researched. . . a cracking read' - Viv Groskop, Observer
The gripping story of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, from an acclaimed historian and writer
On the morning of 26 April 1986 Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine. The outburst put the world on the brink of nuclear annihilation. In the end, less than five percent of the reactor's fuel escaped, but that was enough to contaminate over half of Europe with radioactive fallout.
In Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy recreates these events in all of their drama, telling the stories of the firefighters, scientists, engineers, workers, soldiers, and policemen who found themselves caught in a nuclear Armageddon and succeeded in doing the seemingly impossible: extinguishing the nuclear inferno and putting the reactor to sleep. While it is clear that the immediate cause of the accident was a turbine test gone wrong, Plokhy shows how the deeper roots of Chernobyl lay in the nature of the Soviet political system and the flaws of its nuclear industry. A little more than five years later, the Soviet Union would fall apart, destroyed from within by its unsustainable communist ideology and the dysfunctional managerial and economic systems laid bare in the wake of the disaster.
A poignant, fast paced account of the drama of heroes, perpetrators, and victims, Chernobyl is the definitive history of the world's worst nuclear disaster.
An artful storyteller, Plokhy (Lost Kingdom), director of Harvard's Ukrainian Research Institute, melds Kremlin politics, nuclear physics, and human frailty into this spellbinding account of the 1986 explosion and fire at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine, which Soviet officials tried to deny and then attempted to downplay the extent of. Plokhy expertly guides readers through the Soviet military-industrial complex, exposing the rivalries and clashes among Communist Party bosses, government ministries, the KGB, and central planners whose "unrealistic demands" and "impossible deadlines" precipitated the disaster. The meltdown occurred during a holiday connected to Lenin's birthday; Plokhy, with a Gogolian sense of irony, captures the air of celebration as radiation levels climb to hundreds of times above normal and the threat of a second explosion looms. Officials denied what was happening, the KGB cut telephone lines to keep news of the disaster from spreading, and the deaths of firefighters exposed to lethal doses of radiation in the months following the explosion were kept secret. Plokhy, who shares the opinion of many historians that Chernobyl's meltdown was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, documents the catastrophe and its effects on reemerging Ukrainian and Russian nationalism in this probing and sensitive investigative history.