Review of ‘Midnight in Chernobyl’ by Adam Higginbotham

26th April 1986. Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine. Reactor number 4 explodes. It’s the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

This gripping, thoroughly researched and well-written book is a must-read if you want to learn more about what happened at Chernobyl. The author pieces together the events which led up to the accident and gives a detailed account of the first few days. Various people are focused on, the parts they played (willingly or otherwise) in the story but also their characters and backgrounds. The political context is a major theme of the book, explaining the Soviet culture of cover-ups and cutting corners in the government’s desire to uphold their status and churn out the propaganda at the expense of their own people’s safety. For me, this was the most shocking aspect. Potential problems with that type of reactor had been flagged but for various reasons not acted upon. Even when the explosion had occurred and the firefighters were sent to the scene (unprotected from the deadly radiation), officials were not admitting that it was a nuclear accident. It took an extraordinary length of time for the citizens of Pripyat (the nearby city) to be warned and evacuated, and longer for the USSR to confirm to other countries that a radioactive disaster had occurred. Meanwhile, many Soviets were basically being sacrificed in the chaotic clean-up job. There’s a lot more I could say about this very informative book, but it’s best if you read it…

The science behind nuclear power, the operation of the power plant and the reasoning behind the clean-up methods were explained well. I don’t have a scientific background and I was able to understand it. There is a very human side to the book – after all, the accident was the result of human errors in design, operation and politics – and an epilogue in which we find out what happened to the characters we followed during the events. It’s also very scary, because Chernobyl wasn’t long ago and there’s the possibility of something like that happening again. I would caution against reading it just before you go to sleep…

First published in February 2019.

12 thoughts on “Review of ‘Midnight in Chernobyl’ by Adam Higginbotham”

  1. I really liked the human side of this book too, it was so revealing. On the whole I had trouble getting into this one though, the scientific aspects were a bit dense for me. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!

    1. There was quite a lot of science… I generally understood it but not if I was going to be asked to explain it myself! Unusually for such a long book, I was never bored with it! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Oh wow, I will definitely need to read this book! Chernobyl is one of those things that scares me quite a bit, the idea that the Soviet government just didn’t admit it had happened at first and how dangerous nuclear is in general just makes the whole thing so scary. All the more so too when my mum told me that she took me out for a walk the day after that it happened – I was very small but apparently it was a beautiful sunny and very still day (could there have been a load of radiation in the UK sky?) Nuclear disasters have a horrible afterlife, when Fukushima happened it brought back an eerie feeling of Chernobyl. This was a great review, I’m adding it to my tbr 🙂

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you liked my review ☺ It is a really scary book but I just couldn’t stop reading!
      The combination of the scale of the disaster and the political climate of the time is terrible. I’m really glad I read it, even if it gave me chills.

    1. It was a scary read but I also found it fascinating. Hopefully safety has improved and lessons learned…

  3. I remember meeting a group of children from Chernobyl as a child. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised the significance of where they were from, I just have memories of playing games all together at a garden party.

    1. Wow that’s a great memory! I guess the disaster and radiation might have been difficult for kids to understand.

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