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Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl
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Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  190 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
When a titanic explosion ripped through the Number Four reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in 1986, spewing flames and chunks of burning, radioactive material into the atmosphere, one of our worst nightmares came true. As the news gradually seeped out of the USSR and the extent of the disaster was realized, it became clear how horribly wrong things had gone. Dozens die ...more
Hardcover, 259 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Joseph Henry Press (first published August 29th 2005)
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How do you picture the area around the scariest human-made natural disaster zone a few decades later?

Perhaps, like a postapocalyptic dark world filled, possibly, with mutated cockroaches that, as the popular wisdom states, would surely be the ones to survive a nuclear disaster?

That surely seems fitting, and so once thought Mary Mycio, a journalist and a writer, many years ago, when she first heard of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the wee hours of the morning on April
International Cat Lady
Sep 18, 2011 International Cat Lady rated it really liked it
This is an excellent, well researched, and well written look into the impact of the Chernobyl explosion on all aspects of life in the Zone (plants, animals, water resources, humans, the sarcophagus and other reactors) - and it even had several chapters on the Przewalski's Horses that have been relocated to the zone. Mycio really understands the science behind all of it, although some of the chapters (particularly those on the effects of radionuclides on plants) got a little too in-depth for me. ...more
Finally throwing in the towel. Bought this book for Dad for Christmas a year and a half ago, then borrowed it because he was already reading a different book. Then when we left Christmas, I went and got a copy from the library with the intent of finishing it, but then had to return it 7 months later when I graduated and moved. Recently, Dad came to visit, and we both discussed how we found the topic interesting but the writing dry and repetitive. In summary, skip the book and read the Slate arti ...more
Jan 25, 2008 Erin rated it liked it
A somewhat dry treatment of a really cool topic--the regeneration of the biodiversity in the evacuated Chernobyl area. After everyone was forced to leave, the wildlife came back in; despite some lingering hotspots of radiation, and scattered squatters who refused to leave their villages, the area is now a wild, uninhabited nature preserve of rather good quality. The author explores the region with local guides and tells a lot of the history of the explosion that was kept hush-hush by the Soviet ...more
Wendy Bousfield
Sep 25, 2014 Wendy Bousfield rated it it was amazing
Shelves: chernobyl

Wormwood Forest describes Mary Mycio’s visit to the Chernobyl “Zone of Alienation” ten years after the disastrous reactor meltdown (4/26/86). The Zone of Exclusion, or Alienation, initially a 30 km zone around the nuclear disaster, was subsequently expanded to 1,000 square miles in Ukraine, plus a separately administered zone in Belarus. Presently, the Zone is officially closed to any human enterprise. Though isolated settlers have risked radiation poisoning to return to their farms, an extraord
Dec 18, 2014 Jenny rated it it was ok
Chernobyl, the name of the Soviet Union nuclear plant, has become nearly synonymous with "absolutely horrendus disaster" after the fourth reactor blew, spewing radioactive waste around the world. Mary Mycio's book is, as the title aptly points out, a study of the biology of the Chernobyl fallout zone-- The Zone of Alienation.

Nuclear radioactivity conjures up images of skin burnt to a crisp, bones slowly leeched of their constitution, and dismal anecdotes of cancer-ridden children. The Zone of Al
Jun 01, 2011 Kris rated it liked it
Approaching the Chernobyl nuclear incident from a naturalist's perspective, Mary Mycio details the effects that the massive amounts of nuclear radiation and fallout have had on the environment of the area, from the villages surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear plant to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia overall. She details some of the early efforts by the Soviet government to contain the radiation and how the breakup of the Soviet Union has affected clean-up, monitoring and research activities of the thr ...more
William Herschel
As Chernobyl is popularly thought of as a huge wasteland, the idea of covering the nature that has instead flourished there is an exciting topic.

But this was too technical and dry for my casual interest in the subject. Bluntly, there is nothing there to captivate the mind's paranoia of radiation-- eight-legged animals, missing organs, or anyother horrible mutant one can think of. The reason is pretty obvious though -- anything born like that is very unlikely to survive in the wild. And so if tha
Jan 15, 2016 Fishface rated it liked it
A lot of this was quite a good read, but overall there was less of the information I was looking for and more a sense of how little is known and understood about the radioactive areas around the Chernobyl explosion. I especially longed for more information about the effects on waterways, but the author seemed to do a rapid about-face and flee the subject almost as soon as she started it. She repeatedly lost me by leaping from talk of curies, rems and rads to bequerels, milliroentgens and all the ...more
Pedro Plassen
Sep 11, 2011 Pedro Plassen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nature
Thorough account on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on the surrounding environment: plants, animals and people.
One of the curious (and if you think about it, rational) conclusions comes with the fact that no mutant three-eyed beasts abound after all these years simple due to selection process. "Ugly" (deformed) creatures are less likely to mate and thus pass defect genes.
Another interesting fact is, if it wasn't for the disaster there wouldn't have been an opportunity of having a large ar
Jul 31, 2011 Amelia rated it liked it
Interesting book. The author did a nice job of explaining how the different parts of the ecosystem interact in this region and how these interactions have changed as a result of the nuclear accident. She also discusses the impact on the people of the region and also touches on how other human interventions (such as water diversions) have changes this ecosystem. It was fairly well written, but the biggest thing that she was missing was a map! She is constantly referencing locations throughout the ...more
Jack Scholl
Nov 08, 2007 Jack Scholl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
This is part history, part sociology, part ecology, and a very perceptive account of what happens after a nuclear meltdown. I was impressed by the author's level of knowledge regarding properties and distribution of the isotopes that dispersed. The differing approaches taken by the Ukrainian and Belarusian governments regarding risks and (limited) funding also is intriguing. Chernobyl's resulting wilderness is a situation similar to the Korean demilitarized zone (which now shows signs of dissolu ...more
Art King
Jul 22, 2009 Art King rated it it was amazing
Mary Mycio keeps returning to this great irony: Out of the worst man-caused disaster of the 20th century springs a stunning natural ecosystem. Mary knows Chernobyl like few others. She has spent a significant portion of her life studying the accident and its aftermath. She has spent many days tromping through the woods in the Exclusion Zone. Her writing is fluid and never bombastic. A readable, interesting book hands you the chance to understand Chernobyl, and catch a glimpse of the awesome recu ...more
Feb 16, 2009 Pancha rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I expected this book to be extremely depressing, but while it was sobering at times what the reader comes away with is the astounding power of the natural world to deal with one of the biggest human fuck-ups. In the years since reactor #4 blew its top, Chernobyl hasn't become the desert wasteland predicted by post-apocalyptic sci-fi. The forest and the wildlife flourish, and even humans are able to survive with the help of clean food shipped in from outside the zone.
Oct 22, 2012 Annette rated it it was amazing
Although it's been twenty years, I clearly remember the Chernobyl disaster and have often wondered what happened to the area. From easy-to-understand explanations of the scientific issues surrounding the disaster and aftermath to fascinating descriptions of the site, this book answered my many questions. The author's conversational approach made me feel like I was walking with her through the "Zone".
Apr 30, 2008 Rae rated it really liked it
A good portion of this book was over my head and beyond my interest, but what I was able to comprehend was quite astounding. What it all boils down to is that we know less about the harm radiation does to plants and animals (including us) than we thought. Most of the damage scientists predicted around Chernobyl did not occur in the way they thought it would and many animal communities are thriving, despite continually being exposed to excessive radiation levels. Fascinating stuff.
Feb 03, 2009 Dan rated it liked it
The subject matter was very interesting and it did offer a much more in depth treatment of the subject matter than World Without Us. The author's writing style put me off somewhat and it felt like the information could have been better presented. With that said, I definitely enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in nature writing.
Kate Sherrod
Jul 28, 2012 Kate Sherrod rated it it was amazing
This might have been improved by having a handy glossary to which to refer to keep all the becquerels and curies and rads straight instead of interrupting the narrative flow to explain them once, in detail, that explanation to be lost in the sea of words as one reads, but it's otherwise a great book, haunting, informative and interesting as hell.
Jan 24, 2016 Storyheart rated it it was ok
This could have been an amazing piece of reportage in the right hands. Sadly, Mycio is not a talented storyteller and this natural history of Chernobyl, post nuclear disaster, was quite repetitive and boring. While the author was able to clearly explain how radioactivity affected the people, animals and plants, she lacked the skills to make a scene come to life. Quite a disappointment.
Jan 01, 2014 Nicki rated it liked it
An environmental history of Chernobyl post-disaster. It's a pretty dense book, but has lots of interesting observations on how plant and animal life has rebounded and even thrived in the contaminated area.
Dec 31, 2009 Marilyn rated it really liked it
This book was an interesting read, although not at all what I was expecting to learn about the Thirty Kiilometer Zone of Alienation around the ruined Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This book did drag a bit on some areas for me, though, but I learned so many things!
Aug 10, 2016 Steven rated it really liked it
Might be overrating this a tad due to a long-time fascination with the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone but, in my defense, Chernobyl is extremely interesting. This is a good overview of the history with some excellent circa-2004 reporting on the State of the Zone.
Sep 30, 2009 Dennis rated it really liked it
Book about life around the Chernobyl disaster area, which is mostly flora and fauna. Very interesting and informative. Was skeptical at first when I learned the author was a lawyer but she did a pretty good job of explaining things and her science was pretty accurate (for a lawyer).
A. Drennan
Jul 19, 2011 A. Drennan rated it really liked it
A beautiful account describing the current state of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Poetically blends the technical, the aesthetic, and the sentimental. Well organized. I only wish there had been more of it.
Laurel Saville
Oct 19, 2015 Laurel Saville rated it it was amazing
Fascinating study of the unexpected return of wildlife to the "zone". Turns out humans are worse for animals than toxic radiation! Very well written.
Aug 09, 2015 Carrie rated it liked it
Good read but really slow. I think my eyes glazed over when she went into technical radiation jargon.
May 29, 2010 Smellsofbikes rated it really liked it
An interesting and information-packed description of the land, air, and water around Chernobyl in the years since the nuclear disaster.
Melissa rated it really liked it
Jun 11, 2007
Candice Moor
Candice Moor rated it liked it
Aug 30, 2014
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Apr 25, 2014
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Mary Mycio was born to Ukrainian parents who immigrated to the United States when she was one year old. She reported from Kiev for the Los Angeles Times between 1991 and 2003 while also directing a legal aid program for journalists. Since then, she has been splitting her time between international development consulting and writing.

She has been fascinated and frightened by atomic power since her
More about Mary Mycio...

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“subject would largely have to have been a retraction. Because all the while, I was looking for lies to expose. No bit of information existed merely as a fact but as a clue to a deep underlying truth that would reveal a massive cover-up by both East and West.” 0 likes
“They told the truth, but they buried it so deep in the footnotes of scientific reports and the jargon of obscure journals that almost none of it could emerge to penetrate public consciousness.” 0 likes
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