Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham (2019) is a non-fiction book about the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, then the Soviet Union. The book is dense and starts heavy on the science of nuclear reactors. The book moves back and forth on a timeline, with the reader ever conscious of the clock ticking towards, or away from, April 16, 1986. Some chapters are historical, dealing with the building of the reactors and the entire planned city of Chernobyl and of the Soviet Union’s ambitions with nuclear energy. Other chapters read like an action novel, a minute by minute break down of the unfolding crisis. And the final chapters follow up with the individuals, many of whom were truly heroic in the efforts to stop the deadly spread of radiation. The book is extensively researched. When I first picked it up, I worried about the heft of it but then found half of it was research notes.

This summer my daughter has an nuclear engineering internship. Her boss suggested watching the HBO series, which we did and enjoyed. Her librarian mother told her to read this book, which she did and also enjoyed. Another review of the book can be found here.  My daughter also listened a little to my old stories of living in Ukraine in the mid 1990’s and what I saw (statues to the fire-fighters who died and photos of overgrown fruit and veg from that time). I loved living there, such a beautiful interesting place. I would suggest interested readers look at Harvest of Sorrow or Red Famine. The original work on Chernobyl, published in Russian in 1997, is Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich.  This oral history won Alexievich the Nobel Prize and opened the door for increased conversation about the disaster. For something more humorous, try A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.