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 I absolutely recommend it as a historical reference.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!
Blood Red, Snow White
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Published: July 1, 2007
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 3 stars
There never was a story that was happy through and through.
When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky’s personal secretary.
Both sides seek to use Arthur to gather and relay information for their own purposes . . . and both grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from conflict with his beloved, but her Russian ties make leaving the country nearly impossible. And the more Arthur resists becoming a pawn, the more entrenched in the game he seems to become.
Blood Red Snow White, a Soviet-era thriller from renowned author Marcus Sedgwick, is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
This was another random find from Ollie’s! It’s about Russia, did you really expect me to pass it up? The problem is that I wished I liked it better. It gave good perspective on the Russian Revolution, which I liked! It’s hard to remember that the players in history were just people too and Sedgwick did a great job of reminding me of that. Trotsky was an idealist and he was willing to chase those ideals no matter where it took him. I also enjoyed the espionage that other countries employed throughout the whole affair. The twists and turns of the spies were interesting and engaging.
What’s sad is that I wasn’t all that fond of the main character, Arthur Ransome. I didn’t like his personal traits and he seemed far too reluctant and innocent of the world to take any part in espionage at all. He left his wife and child for selfish reasons and continued that selfishness throughout the whole book. I just didn’t like him. And the main thing that brought this book down for me was the blurred line between fairytale and history. Some authors can weave storytelling through history and do it successfully. Sedgwick didn’t do that. It felt like such a naive way of viewing history! If fairytales are used to educate the young, then these failed because I believed they confused the issues. But perhaps that’s simply because I’m a historian!
I’m glad I read it, but I doubt I’ll ever read it again. I would recommend this to very specific readers and really only out of curiosity than anything. It’s the kind of book I’d rather sit and discuss that read in its entirety.