Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy
Author: Serhii Plokhy
Published: January 1, 2019
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
On 26 April 1986 at 1.23am a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine exploded. While the authorities scrambled to understand what was occurring, workers, engineers, firefighters and those living in the area were abandoned to their fate. The blast put the world on the brink of nuclear annihilation, contaminating over half of Europe with radioactive fallout.
In Chernobyl, award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy draws on recently opened archives to recreate these events in all their drama. A moment by moment account of the heroes, perpetrators and victims of a tragedy, Chernobyl is the first full account of a gripping, unforgettable Cold War story.
I read the whole thing and I really enjoyed it!
First, let’s talk about the missing star. Most of it is about the kind of reader I am, and I completely acknowledge that. This book was very technical. There were several places where science was included with very little explanation. Normally, I work my way through technicalities with a very limited understanding; I even had a hard time with that in this book. I think a bit more explanation of the scientific and medical would have been beneficial. I also didn’t agree with the conclusions that Plokhy reached at the end. I’ll admit that my political views lead to a different solution to the nuclear problem and that’s ok; it just took away a bit from reading the epilogue. The last thing has more to do with Plokhy’s background; he’s a native Ukrainian who has written several works on the history and impact of Ukraine. Unfortunately, his writing felt biased, leaning towards the villainization of most outside of a certain movement within the Ukraine. It didn’t feel very neutral in several places and my inner historian didn’t like that. But, that all can be condensed into 1 star and the rest of the book made up for all that.
It was a straightforward story put forth and I very much enjoyed reading it. I learned a lot and I found it easy to read. Plokhy was able to take a story with so many plot points and twists and players and lay it all out in a clear timeline with understandable perspectives. This is a really good history book and I feel like I learned many things that I didn’t know before. I absolutely recommend it as a historical reference.
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
Author: Svetlana Alexievich
Published: April 18, 2006
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown—from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster—and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live. Composed of interviews in monologue form, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucially important work of immense force, unforgettable in its emotional power and honesty.
So far this is my top read of 2021! Chernobyl is a fascinating subject; the secrecy by the Soviets only makes the mystery more intriguing. I’ve told Ivan for years that I’d like to visit Pripyat, and of course Mr. Genius Physician Assistant said no. So I decided to read about it. It certainly helped that I read Fallout right before Voices, so I was already freaked out about radiation.
Alexievitch got into the trenches for this book. She traveled throughout the forbidden zone and talked to as many people as she could. The ones that were the most fascinating were the everyday people who didn’t know anything about radiation or the dangers; all they knew is the life that they lived their whole lives, so they kept right on living like nothing happened. And they lived a long time! And then the most tragic were the people the Soviets just threw at the blaze with little to no protection and no real plan for their survival. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that the radiation on the roof of Reactor 3 was so bad that 40 seconds exposed the men to the maximum amount of radiation a person should absorb in their entire life. And then many stayed up for much longer and then went back up again the next day!! And radiation poisoning is a terrifying thing! The Russians are a strong people. They’ve always put their heads down and trudged through and Chernobyl was no different.
Alexievitch captured that in every page. I absolutely recommend this as a great anthology of eye witness accounts. History is what can be proven through documentation and this book shows how history can be documented in so many different ways because it was witnessed by so many different people. I would even suggest using this book as required high school reading! I really love it!
Today Kim is bringing you a video review of the coffee table book Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals with photography by Christopher J.Payne and an essay by Oliver Sacks.
Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals
Photographer: Christopher J. Payne
Published: September 4, 2009
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
For more than half the nation’s history, vast mental hospitals were a prominent feature of the American landscape. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, over 250 institutions for the insane were built throughout the United States; by 1948, they housed more than a half million patients.
The blueprint for these hospitals was set by Pennsylvania hospital superintendent Thomas Story Kirkbride: a central administration building flanked symmetrically by pavilions and surrounded by lavish grounds with pastoral vistas.
Kirkbride and others believed that well-designed buildings and grounds, a peaceful environment, a regimen of fresh air, and places for work, exercise, and cultural activities would heal mental illness. But in the second half of the twentieth century, after the introduction of psychotropic drugs and policy shifts toward community-based care, patient populations declined dramatically, leaving many of these beautiful, massive buildings–and the patients who lived in them–neglected and abandoned.
Architect and photographer Christopher Payne spent six years documenting the decay of state mental hospitals like these, visiting seventy institutions in thirty states. Through his lens we see splendid, palatial exteriors (some designed by such prominent architects as H. H. Richardson and Samuel Sloan) and crumbling interiors–chairs stacked against walls with peeling paint in a grand hallway; brightly colored toothbrushes still hanging on a rack; stacks of suitcases, never packed for the trip home.
Accompanying Payne’s striking and powerful photographs is an essay by Oliver Sacks (who described his own experience working at a state mental hospital in his book Awakenings). Sacks pays tribute to Payne’s photographs and to the lives once lived in these places, “where one could be both mad and safe.”
Kim’s Video Review: