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Midnight in Chernobyl – Quick Book Review


Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham is a detailed description of the events to the run-up of one of the worst man-made disasters in human history.

The book is divided into two parts: one devoted to the disaster and the second to what happened since then. The epilogue logs events till 2016, so Google is your best friend if you (like me) are curious about what’s happening now.

Higginbotham underpins the events that transpired on 4 April 1986 by chronicling the then-Soviet Union’s secretive and hyper-patriotic environment (“dear motherland”), the corrupt and corpulent bureaucracy, and the incomprehensible national urge to be the “first” – all of which contributed to a literal and figurative explosion on that fateful day.

As a non-STEM person, I’m grateful that Higginbotham dedicated an entire detailed chapter to the concept of nuclear fission, fissionable materials as also separate chapters on the evolution of nuclear power plants globally. While this sort of technical detail might not appeal to everyone, if you stick with it – you can appreciate the events that caused the explosion and the reaction to the incident much better. (Eg: a quick mention of naturally-occurring nuclear fission in Gabon BLEW MY MIND!)

On a separate note, I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately thanks to audiobooks. BUT, I would not recommend this particular book’s audio version. I suspect the paperback version might contain maps of the Chernobyl plant layout, which might help a reader comprehend the events much more clearly.

Also, as expected, the book is riddled with an exhaustive list of scientists, engineers, bureaucrats, first responders, etc. (“Cast of Characters”), which would be easier to reference if you are holding a paperback in hand. The audio version is also responsible for the only negative point for brilliantly researched work – the narrator could’ve been better. He reserved the same tone of voice for almost all direct quotes in the book, and just his general narrative tone was too languid for the text. Note: Netflix’s Chernobyl series does not adhere exactly to actual events. Google Higginbotham’s interviews on it to know more.

Rating: 4.8/5

This book review is by @arcana_reads (Click to follow on Instagram).

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