... chilling ... Interviewing eyewitnesses and consulting declassified archives — an official record that was frustratingly meager when it came to certain details and, Higginbotham says, couldn’t always be trusted — he reconstructs the disaster from the ground up, recounting the prelude to it as well as its aftermath. The result is superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying ... Amid so much rich reporting and scrupulous analysis, some major themes emerge ... Higginbotham’s extraordinary book is another advance in the long struggle to fill in some of the gaps, bringing much of what was hidden into the light.
...journalist Adam Higginbotham presents an account that reads almost like the script for a movie ... Mr. Higginbotham has captured the terrible drama, though his account has flaws. He doesn’t seem to understand fully the physics of the situation. Some of the dialogue he includes sounds stagey, perhaps because it is translated from Russian ... There are also minor errors ... Mr. Higginbotham’s last chapters cover the long aftermath of the accident. After the explosion, many of the graphite blocks that were once part of the composition of the reactor core lay strewn on the ground. They were so radioactive that even being in their presence for minutes could be fatal. They were, in a sense, a metaphor for the whole catastrophe, and they had to be buried along with the rest of the rubble. A structure suitably named the Sarcophagus was erected. One of the better chapters in Mr. Higginbotham’s book describes this enterprise.
Some might say that narrative nonfiction borders on novelization and, indeed, parts of this story are so fantastic the reader may well assume (wrongly) that those parts are fiction. They are not, the book is not, and the author is a certified crazy person for accomplishing such a dedicated and remarkable feat ... This book isn’t after all, a historical treatise or a government report, it is an all-too-human look—always with factual clarity and revelation—at the unfolded events and the consequences, most of which the reader may think they are familiar with ... [these] stories are told with excellent journalism at the heart of what is, in the end, a blinding work of narrative fact that will amaze, enthrall, and, yes, cause every reader to shed tears for the residue of suffering that Chernobyl has left to all humanity.
... spellbinding ... Based on nearly 80 interviews with survivors and a deep dive into declassified Soviet documents, this account pulses with the human dramas that unfolded as people, including more than half a million conscripts, contended with the deadly explosion and its aftermath. Midnight in Chernobyl also offers profound insights into the failing Soviet system ... This is an excellent, enthralling account of the disaster and its fallout.
Top-notch historical narrative: a tense, fast-paced, engrossing, and revelatory product of more than a decade of research ... A stunningly detailed account of the explosion of Reactor Four at the Chernobyl nuclear-power plant on April 26, 1986 ... For all its wealth of information, the work never becomes overwhelming or difficult to follow. Higginbotham humanizes the tale, maintaining a focus on the people involved and the choices, both heroic and not, they made in unimaginable circumstances. This is an essential human tale with global consequences.
From the greenfield choice of the land between the Pripyat and Dnieper rivers, to the protective dome hurriedly built over the smoldering ruins of reactor four, Higginbotham re-creates the tragedy in intimate detail. Not only does he capture the wrenching events of April 25-26, 1986, when a safety-training session went awry, he also emplaces the tragedy in the long string of bureaucratic failures that preceded and succeeded it ... At its broadest, Higginbotham’s story is an exposé of the failures of the USSR and invites speculation about how the disaster might have contributed to the collapse of the Soviet empire itself. Against the backdrop of official dysfunction and neglect, Higginbotham finds the heroism of individual scientists, engineers, technicians, and soldiers who either came to build and manage the Chernobyl project with so much hope, or else arrived to contain the disaster at great risk to themselves personally.
The explosion at Reactor Number Four comes early in Midnight in Chernobyl, Adam Higginbotham’s compulsively readable forensic recounting of the disaster. The first 80 pages are an elegant tour through the Soviet civilian nuclear program ... Higginbotham’s descriptions of nuclear design and the behavior of isotopes are blessedly clear .. Midnight in Chernobyl is written in a tight temporal mode: the clock-ticking buildup, explosion, attempts to keep the reactor contained, hospital wards and displaced families, and, finally, the trials of plant managers, sentenced in proceedings almost Stalinist in their showiness. The result is as haunting as cinema.
Vivid and exhaustive ... masterfully re-creates the emotions, intrigue, and denials and disbelief of Communist Party officials, workers, engineers, and others at every stage ... offers incisive snapshots of those caught up in the nightmare ... At every turn, Higginbotham unveils revealing aspects of Communist life ... Written with authority, this superb book reads like a classic disaster story and reveals a Soviet empire on the brink.
Struggling to unravel the complex story behind the tragedy, Higginbotham piles detail upon detail ... The result is an exhaustive history that is neither definitive nor harrowing, and repeats much of the mass of information already published on the subject ... [Higginbotham] devotes dense chapters to the West’s reaction, the elaborate cleanup, and the even more complex Soviet cover-up, but fails to provide a deep and clear understanding of the human error and heroism that are at the heart of this story. Readers looking for a definitive account of this disaster may want to look elsewhere.