Finalist for the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction
"A magisterial blend of historical research, investigative journalism, and poetic reportage…[A]n awe-inspiring journey." —Economist
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, international aid organizations sought to help the victims but were stymied by post-Soviet political roadblocks. Efforts to gain access to the site of catastrophic radiation damage were denied, and the residents of Chernobyl were given no answers as their lives hung in the balance. Drawing on a decade of archival research and on-the-ground interviews in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, Kate Brown unveils the full breadth of the devastation and the whitewash that followed. Her findings make clear the irreversible impact of man-made radioactivity on every living thing; and hauntingly, they force us to confront the untold legacy of decades of weapons-testing and other catastrophic nuclear incidents.
In a gripping book part scientific exploration, part Cold War thriller, Brown (Dispatches from Dystopia), a University of Maryland historian of environmental and nuclear history, investigates the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and reveals why ferreting out the truth about it is so difficult. The Soviet government assured the world that the meltdown's repercussions weren't severe, with only 54 plant staff and firefighters dead from acute radiation sickness, and minimal exposure of families, who'd been swiftly evacuated to safety. But behind that optimistic lie, there were secrets on all sides. The Soviet government didn't want to reveal how much it actually knew about radiation effects, or how it had learned that information. The American government, meanwhile, refused to share information from its own medical study of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims with the Soviets. As the crumbling Soviet Union fought to avoid blame, historians and scientists struggled to document data before it disappeared, and Chernobyl victims found their lives dropped into the hands of bureaucrats more interested in covering up the truth than in helping them. Brown's in-depth research and clean, concise writing illuminate the reality behind decades of "half-truths and bald-faced lies." Readers will be fascinated by this provocative history of a deadly accident and its consequences.