Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham retells the stunning and horrific nuclear accident, one of the worst ever in history, of Chernobyl. There are times when a non-fiction story or event in our world history manages to raise more goosebumps on our skin than any blockbuster horror movie by some Hollywood director. Unfortunately for the hundreds of thousands of people that had to live through this, the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl in April 1986 qualifies as just such an event. This tragedy was no doubt made more aware to the masses due to the popular HBO mini series. It’s one of the highest rating TV shows and for good reason. But more importantly, because of it, a lot more of today’s younger generation get to learn of what really happened in this seemingly forgotten event. With climate change taking front stage in society today, the race is on to find a clean and renewable energy source that is efficient but equally important, safe to operate.
“If we survive until the morning, we’ll live forever.” – Tolik (fire prevention officer)
Suffice it to say, Midnight in Chernobyl is simply a masterpiece of journalism and writing. If all books were written with such greatness, I’d believe that we’d have a lot more readers interested in learning historic events of our past. The book is written in a way that really moves and flows like a movie or TV series. It is gripping and a definite page turner. The events chronicled here closely resembles the HBO mini series from what I remember. However, the book obviously goes into more specific details than a TV series is able to and is one of the main reasons I decided to read this. It highlights how the accident was actually years in the making and was bound to happen sooner or later and if not Reactor Number Four in Chernobyl, then elsewhere in Ukraine or Russia that uses the RBMK-1000 design blueprint.
“And please do not panic. Under no circumstances should you panic.” – Vladimir Malomuzh
There are many emotions that the book will wring out of you but the one I found affected me the most is just pure anger. The Soviet’s attempt at denial and trying to cover this accident up was just pointless as they even admitted secretly that it was too big an accident to contain. Yet, they forged on nonetheless. What the book did best is highlighting how the disaster occurred due to the incompetence of so many individuals. From the directors and deputies of XYZ ministry (trust me, there are so many ministries it will make your head spin trying to keep up) to the very fabric of Soviet society and the Politiburo system. While a single factor by itself was not enough to cause the disaster, the combination of everything, when put together, was to be blamed.
“I did not lie in Vienna. But I did not tell the whole truth.” – Valery Legasov
There are obviously special moments as well. We get to read about some of the courageous people who put their lives on the line to get a task done knowing that they will be heavily irradiated. Many of them simply had no choice obviously. The saddest part is learning afterwards that what these brave people did was pointless and had barely any effect on the outcome. The coolest thing I learned is how in 2019 a replacement enclosure, one that is much more bigger than the original and hopefully will last for a century, was just put in place to cover up Reactor Number 4 again in Chernobyl because it is still emitting radiation. This is almost three decades later! Science can be incredible but scary at the same time. I can’t praise this book enough. I read this over the Thanksgiving break and I’m definitely thankful that I didn’t have to live through this.