midnight in chernobyl

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Synopsis & Quick Thoughts

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster is Adam Higginbotham’s debut full-length title. It tells, in deep detail, the story of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown and the incidents leading up to and the reaction to and consequences of what happened that day in 1986. I know that synopsis is short, but I can’t get any more accurate than that.

If you’re looking for material to learn about Chernobyl, this is the first resource you should turn to. I went from knowing the bare facts about Chernobyl to feeling that I have a relatively in-depth knowledge of what happened. I feel like I could have a pretty good conversation and know what I’m talking about. With this great conveyance of knowledge comes a density that I wasn’t fully prepared for and took me a while to digest. All in all, I found this book to be incredibly informative, but too complicated and slow for the type of reading I was hoping to do.

Positives

This book accomplished the job it set out to do; I would go so far as to say that it exceeded that goal. This book is incredibly well-researched and well-informed. It took me from bare-bones knowledge of an event to a decently in-depth understanding of what happened. I really appreciated the detail when it comes to discussing the events leading up to and following the meltdown. I think this is the only resource I personally need on Chernobyl, as an average person who doesn’t require extensive multi-faceted knowledge on the topic.

I was also in awe of the stories relayed through this book and the more ‘behind the scenes’ feel of both the events before and after the explosion. There were entire chapters I read with my jaw dropped. This book made me feel irrationally – no, rationally – infuriated, sad, frustrated…all the bad emotions. There have been few times that a nonfiction book has elicited such a visceral reaction from me.

Negatives

This book is not light reading, which isn’t necessarily a negative, but is definitely something to note when going into this read. There were multiple sections that went deep into scientific and nuclear terms (mainly when discussing the meltdown) that I couldn’t comprehend no matter how many times I reread them. I hate skimming sections of books but that’s what I had to do at times with this one. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, since it means that the research and descriptions were detailed and well done, but it was a bit of a headache for me at times.

The other thing to be aware of is the amount of Russian names in this book. Again, it’s not a bad thing, nor is it something the author could really control – there’s even a list of who’s who in the front of the book – but it does make for a confusing read at times, especially when some people have the same or very similar names. No fault of the author, but it was a lot to take in and resulted in rereading some passages to make sure I understood who was who and what was really happening.

Rating & Final Thoughts

I’m going to give Midnight in Chernobyl 3 out of 5 stars. It was a very intellectual and fascinating read. I feel informed and knowledgeable and that’s what I set out to become when I read this book. Big ole mission accomplished. If you’re looking for a very comprehensive account of the events of Chernobyl, I couldn’t recommend this enough. With that being said, it’s an incredibly dense and exhausting read, and I was hoping it would be a little more – maybe a lot more – digestible. Between the large cast of characters and the intensely scientific descriptions of equipment and events, I feel like I probably read this book twice with the amount of rereading I did. I would still absolutely recommend it, just know what you’re getting into before you pick it up. This is no easy bedtime read.

Purchase Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham here.

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