Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

I have always been fascinated by the Chernobyl disaster, like many other morbid connoisseurs of dilapidation and urban decay. Perhaps it’s the ghostly remains of the abandoned Pripyat, surrendering slowly to the landscape year after year. The unused ferris wheel still stands erect like a beacon of hubris, representing our audacity to believe in an immortal human legacy. Perhaps it’s the realization that catastrophe is always just a millisecond away. Once humanity is lost, nature will take it all back and erase our footprint completely.

Perhaps it’s just because Chernobyl is DEFINITELY haunted. Like absolutely haunted. Bring in the GhostBusters haunted. Make some pottery with Patrick Swayze haunted.

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant’s fourth reactor went totally ballistic. A combination of design flaws and human error made a safety test simulation super fatal. The resulting devastation is written minute by minute with careful and intimate detail by New York Times reporter Adam Higginbotham.  

Higginbotham has been following the Chernobyl disaster since it made headlines in Kiev when he was a teenager. Midnight in Chernobyl is an in-depth focus on the hours leading up to and during the fatal accident which devastated the USSR’s proudest power plant and left a scar on the earth for generations to come.

Just for the morbid curiosity of it, I went ahead and looked up how bad this nuclear accident was by comparison to other famous spills (Fukushima in 2011, Three Mile Island in 1979, etc.) Chernobyl is by far the most devastating nuclear accident the earth has yet to see.

Higginbotham’s writing is engrossing, dynamic, and accessible to all of us non-physicists. His descriptions of radiation poisoning are straight up nightmare fuel. I needed to live with a level of ignorance about what could possibly happen to my body during a nuclear holocaust, but now I am far too knowledgeable. For better or worse, reading Midnight in Chernobyl will make you feel like you’re there.

“As they gazed at the molten crater beneath, the three men realized in horror that they were staring directly into the active zone: the blazing throat of the reactor…[they stood there] a minute at most. But even that was too long. All three received a fatal dose of radiation in a matter of seconds.”

Adam Higginbotham, Midnight in Chernobyl

The book is so well researched, the last one hundred pages are simply notes. So many notes. Check this book out for the subject matter, but stay for the well-crafted prose and obsessive attention to detail.

PS: There’s an HBO mini-series coming in May of 2019 about Chernobyl, I am BEYOND stoked. Below is the recently released teaser trailer. Is it super inappropriate to have a viewing party for this? Don’t @ me.

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