5 books about the Chernobyl Disaster3 min read

 In Blog, Climate, Culture, Eastern Europe

Standing for the potential dangers of nuclear power and the failures of the Soviet System, no other moment of the late Soviet era reverberates as much into the present as the Chernobyl disaster.

In recent years, the area around the exploded fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has seen an unexpected surge of tourism and was a passing point in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lossi‘s team has selected five books which uncover the making of the disaster and explore the future paths ahead.

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
by Svetlana Alexievich

In Voices from Chernobyl, Belarusian Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich explores how the nuclear disaster impacted individuals, relating their physical, psychological, and personal experiences. Alexievich, who was a journalist based in Minsk at the time of the incident, spent a decade interviewing more than 500 eyewitnesses — including firefighters, liquidators, politicians, physicians, physicists, and ordinary citizens — to write this powerful and emotional work. 

Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy
by Serhii Plokhy

Winner of the 2019 Pushkin House Book Prize, Chernobyl is a compelling history of the nuclear disaster, painstakingly researched by award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy. Dramatic and thrilling, it captivates the reader, while staying true to the historical archives it is based on. Plokhy elegantly combines his expertise in Ukrainian and nuclear history to forge a gripping and illuminating narrative. 

The Politics of Invisibility: Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl
by Olga Kuchinskaya

Turning away from accounts of the accident themselves, Kuchinskaya instead focuses on how Chernobyl’s consequences were concealed in Belarus and what lessons we can learn from such politics of invisibility. It is a book that looks to the future and how today’s crises, such as global warming, can similarly be manipulated by those in power.

Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future
by Kate Brown

Blending historical research, investigative journalism, and lyrical reportage, Kate Brown focuses on uncovering the the long-term medical effects of the Chernobyl disaster. In doing so, she unveils how devastating technological disasters can be, both for humankind and the environment. By showing how the effects of the catastrophe were systematically underreported in the aftermath by both national and international observers, Brown’s oeuvre is a cautionary tale on the limits of technocratic governance and threat of repeating history. 

Producing Power: The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry
by Sonja D. Schmid

This book examines the various narratives that emerged to explain the Chernobyl disaster, with a deep-dive investigation into the Soviet nuclear industry from its very start. Instead of solely focusing on a history of technology, Schmid shows how technological development was ideologically embedded in the ideas of progress and order. In doing so, Schmid creates a non-fiction masterpiece that, in addition to helping explain what went wrong in Chernobyl, helps us understand and evaluate contemporary nuclear projects.  

Though each of these book’s focuses on the Chernobyl disaster, each has its unique emphasis, from emotionally relating the disastrous effects to human health to clinically examining how environmental crises can be manipulated and used by those in power. Both those new to the topic and experts alike will find interest in these volumes.

Feature Image: Canva
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