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Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe
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Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  5,489 ratings  ·  675 reviews
A Chernobyl survivor and award-winning historian "mercilessly chronicles the absurdities of the Soviet system" in this "vividly empathetic" account of the worst nuclear accident in history (The Wall Street Journal).

On the morning of April 26, 1986, Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Sov
Hardcover, 404 pages
Published May 15th 2018 by Basic Books
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Aris So I now have an opinion on both books. I have read mid way through both but will only finish "Midnight in Chernobyl". Here is how they compare in my …moreSo I now have an opinion on both books. I have read mid way through both but will only finish "Midnight in Chernobyl". Here is how they compare in my opinion: I think that this one is for researchers and the other one for regular readers like me. The reason I originally selected this one was its author's credentials and other work. Unfortunately however, it is rather academic, with very flat characters, and virtually very few elements of a captivating narrative. It includes myriads of details thrown in a relatively unstructured way and provides with no intuition whatsoever as to the physics underpinning the accident. I had to push myself to read half of it and eventually gave up. "Midnight in Chernobyl" has the constructs, mild dramatic elements and depth of characters that kept me wanting more. It also attempts to explain the physics behind the accident and does a relatively good job. With just a little help from Wikipedia you will get it, the whole thing. In conclusion, both are good but IMO, they target different audiences. Because most of us are not academics or historians, it is no coincidence that Midnight has a better ranking both here and on Amazon. (less)
Giyogiyo Chernobyl survived a terrible catastrophe and now nature rules this once wonderful city. I wanted to see all the power and beauty of nature with my ow…moreChernobyl survived a terrible catastrophe and now nature rules this once wonderful city. I wanted to see all the power and beauty of nature with my own eyes, so I decided to visit chernobyl
I really enjoyed this trip and expected no less! All my expectations were met. The atmosphere of the ghost town puts pressure on you, but it makes you understand all the strength and power of nature(less)

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Diane S ☔
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019
I listened to this and in the beginning I was taking notes, but soon gave up on that. This book is so dense, imparting so much information. It was a mess up of epic proportions from beginning to end up. Substandard materials, shortages, money that was supposed to be used for maintenance of the plant, used instead for town amenities. Workers who had little clue what they were doing, pressure from party bosses to get the reactors operational, and then they don't even realize that the reactor had ...more
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“[…] It is still imperative that we draw the right lessons from the Chernobyl disaster. The most crucial lesson is the importance of counteracting the dangers posed by nuclear nationalism and isolationism and of ensuring close international cooperation between countries developing nuclear projects. This lesson is especially important today, when the forces of populism, nationalism, and anti-globalism are finding more adherents in a world that relies increasingly on nuclear technology for the
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
While many know that Chernobyl is synonymous with nuclear meltdowns and severe radiation poisoning, few laypeople are surely clear on all the lead-up and fallout (pardon the pun) related to this horrible event in a small community within Ukraine. Serhii Plokhy delves deeply into the events from April 1986, as well as how things developed from there, turning an accident on a night shift into an international disaster that helped pave the way towards the end of the Cold War. With the USA and USSR ...more
~Bookishly Numb~
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
When the Chernobyl disaster took place on April 26, 1986, I had not long turned one years of age. Up until Xmas Eve of this year, I had no idea of the implications that particular disaster had had on my parents (especially my Mum's) mental health. Despite us living in the UK at the time, I learned that she was worried each time it rained, due to the radioactivity that spread into Europe, so she kept me indoors when it did rain.

I have obviously heard about Chernobyl before, on television reports
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Very thorough...

The book covers the events from the original party summit that ordered the construction of the plant to the completion of the new sarcophagus. Now, because the author is well known for covering the history of Ukraine he looked at this catastrophe from more of a political perspective. Everything from planing through construction and running the plant to response to the accident was messed up. Yes he did cover the disaster and its causes, but he was far more concerned with the acti
If anyone has time, they should explore Last week a friend here took us to the realty office which is located in a former stock market exchange: feel free to infer from there. As two visiting Americans we were given quite the pitch on how this eyesore of Belgrade was going to be replaced by The Future. Malls and luxury apartments, oh my! Such exclusivity, such luxury. Serbia was giving the land and Abu Dhabi was paying the tab. Sounds like an everyday gentrification but u ...more
Shine Story
Here's my review! Almost two months after I said I'd post one! Progress!!
Fascinating, accessible, and thoroughly researched.
Covering the buildup, occurrence and aftermath of the disaster at Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy provides an elegantly-written and engaging history of one of the most famous nuclear tragedies to date.
If you aren't usually much of a non-fiction reader, I'd recommend watching the Chernobyl TV series before reading this, as the book does go into a fair amount of detail!
I picked this up on a whim the last time I had credits to burn on Audible, and it was absolutely a credit well spent. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and these days, most of them are non-fiction, and I would still say that this is one of the most enthralling, well researched, well written, and just plain utterly fascinating ones I've read in a long time. I actually started it over at about the 5% mark because I needed to readjust my headspace to really take in the scale and potential of this ca ...more
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, good-true-crime
There’s a collection of poetry by Mario Petrucci called Heavy Water, which is about the Chernobyl disaster and centres mainly on the first responders and their suffering families. It’s beautiful, melancholic and an apt tribute. There’s also an accompanying documentary, which is equally as haunting. This started my interest in the Chernobyl saga.

History of a Tragedy is an in depth look, from beginning to end, of the explosion of reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 but fo
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a fascinating history of Chernobyl - its design and construction, the 1986 accident and subsequent efforts to remedy (and conceal) it, the spread of radiation, and so on - including its role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In places this is a moving account - for example how attempts to conceal what had happened led to evacuations and other safety measures being delayed, or the heroic actions of those trying to contain the nuclear inferno. Although some did so understandin
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, factual, 2018
Causes and effects...

On 26 April 1986 the no.4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine exploded. In this book, Plokhy sets out to explain why and how this disaster occurred, and to look at the fallout, both actual and political, that followed. Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University. The book begins with him visiting the present-day Chernobyl site, now a kind of macabre tourist venue, with the destroyed reactor buried in its o
Anne ✨
This is a recent release (2018), in which expert Serhii Plokhy writes a hugely expanded and comprehensive look at the Chernobyl disaster from it's beginnings in 1986 up to current day concerns. I learned so much that I didn't realize had happened in the aftermath. I felt shock, sadness, and anger at the government's mishandling, ignorance, deceit, and lack of concern for the people living in the vicinity/involved in the aftermath, who were all exposed to unbelievably high levels of radiation.

Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A rigorously research but above all very moving account of the Chernobyl disaster

When on 28 April 1986 an alarm kept going off in a Swedish power plant it was the first sign that something was seriously wrong. All signs were pointing to Russia, but initially Russia flatly denied that something very bad had happened. After a few days, when more and more radioactivity was detected, Russia could not keep its secret anymore: there had been an incident at the nuclear power plant near Chernobyl, in th
Athan Tolis
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
As luck would have it, right about as I was finishing “Chernobyl” yesterday, I was invited to dine with my friend Gleb’s daddy, Peter, a veteran of the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, the innocuous name Beria allegedly chose for the Soviet equivalent of the Manhattan Project.

With author Serhii Plokhy’s conclusions fresh in my mind, I put the question to him: who was to blame for Chernobyl? He did not hesitate: “culture” he answered. When the political decision was made to transfer responsib
I vaguely remember the Chernobyl disaster. I remember hearing about it on the news and being scared. That’s about it. Plokhy’s history rectifies that.

The book opens with the Swedish discovery of the disaster and includes a detailed account of the disaster itself. Not only the events leading up to it but the human cost of those who fought the faire without knowing fully the risk they were taking. The first tragedy is what happens to the firefighters.

But the book isn’t just a detailed account of
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review: First of all, I think it's important to mention how dense this book is, it has a lot of information! I love that kind of books, but I always end up wanting to reread them after, because I feel that I have retained little. By this I also want to say that because of that this book is very complete.

This book talks about everything related to the disaster. It places us very well, it initially talks briefly about the history of Chernobyl before the nuclear plant. It also talks about those res
Rosemary Standeven
When Chernobyl exploded, I was very relieved to be back home in New Zealand, and far away from Europe, where I had been living up until only two months previously. With the new information now available, it is horrifying to see just how close Europe, as a whole, came to nuclear devastation. It is a testament to the extreme heroism of the Soviet Union firefighters, soldiers, miners and nuclear power scientists and workers that such a catastrophe was averted. But, at the same time, it was the poli ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 03, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a comprehensive history of the Chernobyl nuclear power station reactor No. 4 and the explosion that destroyed it. It provides real human stories and characters of those affected by the accident, explains how the aftermath of the accident and enraged populace created the new independent republic of the Ukraine, and why Russia has gotten away with so much nonsense with respect to Ukraine in the intervening 32 years since the explosion.
On the plus side, the book deals directly with the hum
I can still vividly remember the time we in the West first heard about a nuclear accident behind the Iron Curtain. Reports were appearing about a massive rise in radiation with denials from European states and a collective finger pointing to an accidental release somewhere in the USSR. At the height of the cold war, very little was confirmed on denied by the Soviets, but pressure built on the Kremlin and they began to reveal details of just what had happened in the Ukraine. It wasn’t an accident ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should read this book.

There is nothing that went wrong in the chain of events before, during and after the reactor exploded at Chernobyl which could not or would not happen today.

The stakes are too high for vested interests to be trusted basically, even leaving aside concerns such as natural disasters, terrorism etc.

This meticulous history is also riveting reading. Plokhy should consider a secondary career writing thrillers.
Adam Ford
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. Best book on the subject that I've read. Review to follow.
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Exhaustively researched and very well written account of the events leading up to the Chernobyl disaster, the event itself and the aftermath.
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why did I read this? Because I was browsing Netflix last year and came across this: NOVA: Building Chernobyl's MegaTomb. I love history and learning and this bio peeked my interest. It's about designing and building a NEW sarcophagus to encase the OLD sarcophagus AND the dangerous nuclear reactor (#4). The show does cover some of what happened in 1986 and the cause of the explosion. Then, the HBO mini-series about Chernobyl came out and I HAD to know how much of the series was fact. Note, the HB ...more
Sep 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting information but the writing wasn't the most engaging. There also was quite a bit of detailed Ukrainian history (perhaps not surprising from an author who is an expert in Ukranian history) that I didn't think was pertinent to the story given the title of the book. Perhaps 3 1/2 stars but no more.
Andrea Salayová
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Altogether, 50 million curies of radiation were released by the Chernobyl explosion, the equivalent of 500 Hiroshima bombs. All that was required for such catastrophic fallout was the escape of less than 5 percent of the reactor’s nuclear fuel. Originally it had contained more than 250 pounds of enriched uranium—enough to pollute and devastate most of Europe. And if the other three reactors of the Chernobyl power plant had been damaged by the explosion of the first, then hardly any living and b ...more
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-nonfiction
This is a phenomenal book about a piece of history I was only distantly familiar with. My knowledge of Cold War politics reaches as far as history A-level, and even then I'd forgotten quite a bit.

This book is more than a factual retelling of the events at Chernobyl nuclear power station- it's also a social history of the nuclear age, and an investigation into eco-movements and their contribution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Fascinating, harrowing, but never exploitative or flashy, th
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
If you'd like to learn about Chernobyl— starting from its construction and moving through the infamous 1986 disaster and immediate efforts to cover any deadly side-effects up— this is the book for you.

I found it pretty hard to keep up with the events happening in this, just because it's so dense and thorough. You learn so much about this horrific event, and I have to say it's incredibly well-researched.

It's frustrating and sad, but very interesting. Give it a shot!
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A remarkably detailed and apparently comprehensive exegesis of the most disastrous nuclear accident that has ever occurred. It is engaging and unsettling in exactly the way one might expect. What astonishes today is not so much the complex web of causation, but the total lack of understanding within the Soviet authorities as to the real nature of what had happened when the reactor at Unit 4 exploded on that day in 1986.

Officials and firemen walked openly amongst the rubble, kicking aside fragme
Fiona Erskine
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Full review at

Professor Serhii Plokhy opens with his recent visit to Chernobyl and quickly becomes engagingly personal. The reader is clearly in competent hands.

The bulk of the book documents the events in the days immediately after the explosion of Reactor Number Four. It conveys a vivid sense of the utter confusion, denial, delay, power struggle and disagreement, all pointing to a total lack of preparedness for such a catastrophic event.

I learned much
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Serhii Plokhy is a Ukrainian and American historian. Plokhy is currently the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, where he was also named Walter Channing Cabot Fellow in 2013. A leading authority on Eastern Europe, he has lived and taught in Ukraine, Canada, and the United States. He has published extensively in ...more

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“Altogether, 50 million curies of radiation were released by the Chernobyl explosion, the equivalent of 500 Hiroshima bombs. All that was required for such catastrophic fallout was the escape of less than 5 percent of the reactor’s nuclear fuel. Originally it had contained more than 250 pounds of enriched uranium—enough to pollute and devastate most of Europe. And if the other three reactors of the Chernobyl power plant had been damaged by the explosion of the first, then hardly any living and breathing organisms would have remained on the planet.” 7 likes
“The Soviets had to choose whether to show Blix the toilet facilities and hide the super-secret radar or vice versa.” 3 likes
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