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  • Writer's pictureEva

Review: Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

Let's start by noting how amazing this setting was to read a very depressing book about a nuclear disaster...

I didn't know much about the disaster at Chernobyl. I missed the highly acclaimed TV show, and I'm terrible with that kind of commitment I thought the book would be much more manageable; you'd hope so seeing as I'm a book blogger...

Chernobyl, 1986, was a turning point in world history. This disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30 kilometre Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.

Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union, and, with it, the United States’ victory in the Cold War. For Moscow, it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.

I am perhaps not the best person to review a book like this. Despite my adoration of non-fiction, this one was considerably harder to consume information and stay engaged with. The book - for the most part - read like a history book. Admittedly, this is a significant point in history and there is nothing wrong with this style of writing. However, it made the reading experience less enjoyable. A consistent spouting of facts: names, dates, figures, locations, had my head whirling. There were many moments of touching storytelling, where Higginbotham would describe in detail the tragedy endured by a specific family. Some of these scenes will not be forgotten in a hurry. I only wish that this form of writing was more consistent throughout. However, this is a full 'start to finish' account, as opposed to merely the aftermath/side effects of radiation exposure. Descriptions of the aftermath and the bodily harm that was inflicted on those that were exposed to the radiation was graphic and very memorable. In these passages, talk of science and nuclear reactors went out the window. This allowed me to be fully immersed in an emotional plot-line as opposed to feeling removed from the situation (as beyond my GCSE's, I have nothing to contribute scientifically to a conversation).

There is no denying that this author is very knowledgeable on the events that transpired in Chernobyl. The book is well researched and there is a reason why it has such high ratings: it's incredibly thorough. However, it did not appeal to my reading preferences when it comes to non-fiction. I found it hard to maintain focus when there were long chapters dedicated to complex scientific jargon that I was not familiar with. I would recommend this book to those that enjoy fact heavy non-fiction/history books . There are emotional additions to the book which appeal to non-fiction readers like myself who veer towards memoirs. But it will not be soaring on my recommendations, as there was too much of the story I wasn't able to remember soon after finishing, and several chapters where I had to try far too hard to maintain focus.

Initial Prediction: 4 stars

Final Rating: 3 stars

Publication Date: 12 February 2019 (my edition: 31 October 2019)

Publisher: Corgi

Genres: Nonfiction, History

# of Pages: 560


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