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:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
Author: Denise Kiernan
Published: September 26, 2017
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.
The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.
Orphaned at a young age, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser claimed lineage from one of New York’s best-known families. She grew up in Newport and Paris, and her engagement and marriage to George Vanderbilt was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House.
Before their marriage, the wealthy and bookish Vanderbilt had dedicated his life to creating a spectacular European-style estate on 125,000 acres of North Carolina wilderness. He summoned the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to tame the grounds, collaborated with celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000-square-foot chateau, filled it with priceless art and antiques, and erected a charming village beyond the gates. Newlywed Edith was now mistress of an estate nearly three times the size of Washington, DC and benefactress of the village and surrounding rural area. When fortunes shifted and changing times threatened her family, her home, and her community, it was up to Edith to save Biltmore—and secure the future of the region and her husband’s legacy.
The Last Castle is the uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.
This is a great history book! I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Biltmore has a special place in my heart; I’ve been visiting since I was a kid and it ignited my imagination as a place of finery and magnificence! I’ve said many times that if you haven’t been to visit, you should and I hold to that.
Kiernan laid out not just the history of the house, but the people who built her. George Vanderbilt is the height of refinement and education and Ivan and I have already decided that we need more dapper gentlemen like him. Edith was a classy, yet humble woman who accomplish much. I grew to love them the more I learned and I’m so happy that their legacy survives in that estate.
As a historian, I was happy with the way Kiernan presented the facts. She did extensive research and put all kinds of resources throughout the book. The personal letters were fascinating. I also loved how she focused on the trailblazing that happened at Biltmore. The National Park Service practically started on the estate and the agricultural and forestry development procedures were revolutionary. Overall, this was a great and easy read and I learned a lot!
Here a few pictures of Kim and Ivan at Biltmore: