I was a freshman in high school when Chernobyl happened. I don’t remember much of what I thought about it then. Probably not a lot. Even though I was in debate and more attuned to the news than most teenagers, I doubt I thought hard about it. I didn’t even get it much thought when I went to Moscow and St. Petersburg in January 1993. I’ve always been fascinated with what happened since. The wasteland that lay in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. I don’t have HBO and haven’t seen the miniseries. But I was excited to see this book.
I listened to the audiobook and it was engrossing. The book has a million characters, but they aren’t too terribly hard to keep track of. Adam Higginbotham wrote and exceptionally detailed and meticulously researched book. He discusses the disaster, the reaction, and how things went wrong. The scariest part of this book is that this disaster could still happen today. Though the governments in the west wouldn’t be so secretive about it, I can see them passing blame like a hot potato.
I think the thing I liked most about this book is that though it follows a lot of people, the author does a great job of keeping you from feeling lost. He tells very human stories about the disaster and its aftermath. I was particularly bothered by the fact that looters in the military were taking contaminated items from the exclusion zone and sending them all over the Soviet Union for sale. All of those unsuspecting people being exposed to radioactivity.
I also felt for the first responders. They had horrible effects from the radiation poisoning they received. The Soviet government, of course, covered that up. And unfortunately, an opportunity to learn and make things safe gave way to secrecy and saving face with the West. A lot of the people who tried to make things better and safer were vilified by the Soviet leadership and that’s a shame because these men and women did what they were assigned to do, without regard for their personal safety, like first responders all over the world did.
I really liked this book. It was sad, and parts of it difficult to digest, but it was so well-written and so well-narrated, that you can’t help but like it. If you are interested in Soviet history, nuclear power, or anything related to Chernobyl, I highly recommend you check this book out. And if you do audio books, this one is really, really. good.