The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 in Ukraine. Today, thirty-six years later, here are three books you can read to get a sense of the human impact of what occurred that day and the lasting consequences of the tragedy.
Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich
If you’re going to read one book on the Chernobyl disaster, let it be this one. Svetlana Alexievich is revered for her style that injects humanity back into history — Voices From Chernobyl is compiled from oral interviews given by survivors. Alexievich sat down with first responders, caretakers of victims, orphans, and more impacted by the disaster. Their testimonies are harrowing accounts of trauma and tragedy. Voices From Chernobyl won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015.
Chernobyl, History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy
Serhii Plokhy provides a lot of historical context for the disaster in his recent book Chernobyl, History of a Tragedy. He frames the event within the larger geopolitical system and how it heralded the irreversible decline of Soviet rule.
Instead of focusing on survivors and civilians as in Svetlana Alexievich’s narrative, Serhii Plokhy focuses on the internal factors that led to the explosion — both in the reactor control room and Soviet motivations for establishing these nuclear reactors in the first place. He also discusses the political consequences of the disaster that are largely ignored in the conversation. A review of the book by The Guardian tells of how Plokhy explains that “Chernobyl helped to transform the slow-burn of Soviet environmental protests into an explosive form of eco-nationalism.”
The Truth About Chernobyl by Grigori Medvedev
The Truth About Chernobyl is a first-hand account of the aftermath of the tragedy. Grigori Medvedev worked as a deputy chief at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant when it was being constructed, and he was sent back after the disaster to investigate what went wrong. He conducted interviews with workers and victims, and compiled all of his findings into this book that shows the structural failings that lead to the disaster.