by Adam Higginbotham

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I read this shortly after watching the Chernobyl miniseries, and raced through it in about three days. Both are excellent, gripping, terrifying accounts of the disaster, though after reading the book the shortcomings of the series become clear.

The book is obviously able to explore more and in more detail, but in some ways the comparison between the two is darkly funny. The series starts with a monologue about truth and stories, and wanting to know who to blame, referring to the “story” of Chernobyl as conjured by the Soviet state, but the series itself very much looks like one of those stories next to Higginbotham’s book.

I don’t say this to put people off the series, which is completely absorbing and the most terrifying thing I’ve watched since Threads. Higginbotham’s book gives a more complete picture — the terror doesn’t abate when, for instance, you discover that Legasov exclaimed: “Victory” upon returning to Moscow after presenting a highly misleading report to the IAEA, or that many of the heroic, suicidal actions taken during the recovery were ultimately futile.

One review I read of the book while I was waiting for it to arrive compared it to Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, about the US nuclear weapon’s programme, which is a fantastic book that I highly recommend, probably the best non-fiction book I’ve read. While the review was talking about their structure — switching between chapters that narrate an event moment by moment and chapters that take a broader perspective — I think Midnight in Chernobyl stands up there with Command and Control.