Journalist Adam Higginbotham’s years-in-the-making account of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster—and an investigation into how propaganda, secrecy, and myth have obscured the true story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest disasters.
... 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.