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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  2,034 ratings  ·  269 reviews
*WINNER OF THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION 2018*
On 26 April 1986 at 1.23am a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine exploded. While the authorities scrambled to understand what was occurring, workers, engineers, firefighters and those living in the area were abandoned to their fate. The blast put the world on the brink of nuclear annihilat
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Kindle Edition, 370 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)
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4.24  · 
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 ·  2,034 ratings  ·  269 reviews


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Diane S ☔
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nataliya
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“[…] 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 pr
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Matt
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jonfaith
If anyone has time, they should explore belgradewaterfront.com. 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
Becky
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
George
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 it's causes, but he was far more concerned with the act
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Leah
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
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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.

Th
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Tony
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
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SAM
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
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Athan Tolis
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Christine
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
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Dumbledore11214
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meredith
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
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Amazonaute
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Anouk
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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.
Andrea Salayová
“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
Patrick
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
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Keen
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

“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% 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
...more
Fiona Erskine
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full review at
https://thechemicaldetective.blog/boo...

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
...more
Lee Osborne
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think it's best to keep this review very simple - the book is, as it says, a history of the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant.

The book goes into a great deal of detail, and I found it particularly interesting to read about the political and historical background to the Soviet Union's nuclear power programme. This explains how the Chernobyl plant came to be built, and the problems and compromises that occurred in its construction. You're already some way into the book before t
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Laurie
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Did I learn a lot. There are parts of this book that aren't my cup of tea. Soviet politics, anyone? But I'm glad I powered through the parts that were not my favorite because this is a terrifying study of how politics can influence decisions that end up killing people. Chernobyl's design was flawed from the start (it is a design that is not used in the US). That was coupled with a reluctance to challenge the conventional wisdom that the controlling agencies couldn't make a mistake, and the ...more
Kryštof Večerek
The definitive story of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. An incredibly fascinating book. If, same as me, Chernobyl keeps you awake deep into the night reading Wikipedia articles about it, you owe it to yourself to get this book. The author places the disaster into the political context of the Soviet Union, focuses on specific characters and looks at the whole scope of consequences ranging from the immediate ecological fallout to how Chernobyl contributed to Ukraine and Belarusia breaking free fro ...more
Jackie
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read
When the Chernobyl disaster occurred I was 5 years old, which meant I only had a cursory understanding that something majorly bad happened. As the years went on I learned more of the incident and saw several TV specials, which mainly detailed the after effects of the disaster. I had no understanding of the cause or the government role or of the covers ups that occurred until reading this book. Admittedly, reading about it was absolutely fascinating in a train wreck kind of way.

Serhii Plolhy unp
...more
Mona
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Goods: This is a fascinating document about Chernobyl disaster describing events before it happened, during the accident and ending with closing of the nuclear plant and building shield over the reactor number 4. Author did a good research, provided political and social context to the catastrophe and very well portrayed mentality of people living in USSR at the time of the event. Being a native citizen of Ukraine certainly gave him a different perspective on things then the one we can see in ...more
Dee Eisel
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disasters, history
There are very few books on disasters that match the quality and insight of “Chernobyl.” Dr. Plokhy is Ukranian and speaks the local languages. He has ties to the region, and best of all he is an accomplished, clear, and informative writer. We get a good overview at the beginning of the political situation as Mikhail Gorbachev took office, and we get to know the people under him who were the ministers and party members responsible for certain decisions.

It’s carefully researched, and focuses les
...more
Eukaryote
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book while I was on vacation in New York City. A summer tradition of mine is to take the train across the country, and as I do so, sometimes I like to retire from looking out the window and just want to read a book.

Chernobyl has been an eccentric special interest of mine for six years now. I absorb information about it whenever I get the chance. It is something I have learned about extensively. Most of the information presented in this book was not new to me, but some of it was
...more
Sean Brady
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy. An astonishing read. Plokhy covers the minute by minute events that lead to the catastrophe, as well as the political ramifications that follow. You’ll feel like you’ve walked through the radioactive ruins of Unit 4, surrounded by fire and confusion; you’ll help evacuate the residents of Prypiat, their hair and clothes alive with radiation; and you’ll be on the frontline of human waves sent in to prevent a greater disaster that could have rendered a sizeable portion o ...more
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Serhii Plokhy is 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 English, Ukrainian, and Russian. For three successive ye ...more
“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.” 5 likes
“The Soviets had to choose whether to show Blix the toilet facilities and hide the super-secret radar or vice versa.” 1 likes
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