What's the definitive history book about Chernobyl?
May 13, 2019 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Watching the recent HBO mini-series has got me curious. Any recommendations?
posted by jtothes to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The most comprehensive history that I'm aware of is Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy (2018). It's comprehensive in the sense that it tracks the story of the reactor all the way to the building of the new shelter that was recently put in place over the site.

The other book that might compete at this level that I'm familiar with is Adam Higginbotham's Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster (2019), which reads as more of a very well-researched thriller.

Kate Brown's Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (2019) goes into more detail about the impact of the disaster outside of the exclusion zone and international efforts to investigate the effects of nuclear accidents in general.

(I've read all three and think Higginbotham's is best for a general audience)
posted by theory at 10:42 PM on May 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

I should also include Svetlana Alexievich's Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. It's really extraordinary - not a detailed history like some others, but full of incredible stories from a wide spectrum of people who were involved in and affected by the disaster. This is my favorite book about Chernobyl.
posted by theory at 11:01 PM on May 13, 2019 [15 favorites]

I'm currently reading Higginbotham's Midnight in Chernobyl and can also recommend it.
posted by meronym at 11:46 PM on May 13, 2019

I second Alexievich’s work. It’s incredible.
posted by stillmoving at 11:56 PM on May 13, 2019

Thirding Alexieveich's book. Though, it's not for the faint of heart.
posted by kmt at 3:56 AM on May 14, 2019

Thirding Midnight in Chernobyl - well-written, well-researched, very get-into-able.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:58 AM on May 14, 2019

Alexieveich is the bomb (sic).
posted by Middlemarch at 4:45 AM on May 14, 2019

Seconding theory: I read Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy recently and found it to be excellent. Very well written and researched, and while entirely factual it has a novelistic feel that made it a surprisingly fast read. (I'm almost wishing I'd seen the Chernobyl series first, as his account of the events on the night of the failed test and subsequent disaster was so clearly detailed that I'm very aware of the places where things have been changed or compressed for television.)

Picked up Kate Brown's Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future at the same time (had a bit of a splash-out that day at Foyles) but decided against ferrying a heavy book about whilst abroad for a couple months, so won't be able to start that one until July. Quite looking forward to an analysis from the environmental perspective.
posted by myotahapea at 7:36 AM on May 14, 2019

Don't miss the podcast too, which I mention partly because at least they say that Alexievich's book was a source for the show and that Higginbotham's book they recommend even though it wasn't out yet so they didn't use it for their research. They may mention other books too, not sure.
posted by Jahaza at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2019

Another vote for Voices From Chernobyl here.

I haven't read Kate Brown's book yet, but if you're interested in previewing what she has to say in Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future to see if it's something you want to dive into, there was a recent New Books Network podcast that's an interview with her about the book. It's pretty informative on its own.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2019

Kate Brown's Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future is very good on the current consequences of continuing radiation fall-out, and is written with poetic flourishes – eg, ''Dying is a song the body plays... the question is at what tempo."

I agree that the HBO dramatisation is superb.
posted by MinPin at 9:44 AM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just the excerpts of Alexieveich I read were enough to make my hair fall out. Very powerful, very grueling.
posted by praemunire at 11:39 AM on May 14, 2019

If you want to go to a primary source and you're okay with a more dense, technical description of the accident without any Nuclear Power Plant 101 explanations, try Grigori Medvedev's The Truth About Chernobyl (also called Chernobyl Notebook). He was a former deputy chief engineer at the number 1 reactor at Chernobyl and deputy director of the Soviet Ministry of Energy sent to investigate the accident. His account, based on his observations and interviews, is the basis for most of our minute-to-minute understanding of the Chernobyl accident. I assume it's under copyright, but it's out there on the web in pdf format.
posted by peeedro at 7:41 AM on May 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

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