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  • Published: 19 November 2019
  • ISBN: 9780552172899
  • Imprint: Corgi
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 560
  • RRP: $28.00

Midnight in Chernobyl

The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster

The definitive, dramatic untold story of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, based on original reporting and new archival research.


'Superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying . . . every step feels spring-loaded with tension... extraordinary.' The New York Times

The story of Chernobyl is more complex, more human, and more terrifying than the Soviet myth. Adam Higginbotham has written a harrowing and compelling narrative which brings the 1986 disaster to life through the eyes of the men and women who witnessed it first-hand. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews conducted over the course of more than ten years, as well as letters, unpublished memoirs, and documents from recently-declassified archives, this book makes for a masterful non-fiction thriller.

Chernobyl has become lodged in the collective nightmares of the world: shorthand for the spectral horrors of radiation poisoning, for a dangerous technology slipping its leash, for ecological fragility, and for what can happen when a dishonest and careless state endangers not only its own citizens, but all of humanity. It is a story that has long remained in dispute, clouded from the beginning in secrecy, propaganda, and misinformation.

Midnight In Chernobyl is an indelible portrait of history's worst nuclear disaster, of human resilience and ingenuity and the lessons learned when mankind seeks to bend the natural world to his will - lessons which, in the face of climate change and other threats - remain not just vital but necessary.
Now, Higginbotham brings us closer to the truth behind this colossal tragedy.

'Tells the story of the disaster and its gruesome aftermath with thriller-like flair . . . wonderful and chilling ... written with skill and passion.' The Observer

'An invaluable contribution to history.' Serhii Plokhy, Evening Standard


  • Published: 19 November 2019
  • ISBN: 9780552172899
  • Imprint: Corgi
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 560
  • RRP: $28.00

About the author

Adam Higginbotham

Adam Higginbotham writes for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, Businessweek, Smithsonian, Men’s Journal, and The Atavist. He began his career in magazines and newspapers in London, where he was the editor-­in-chief of The Face and a contributing editor at The Sunday Telegraph. The author of Midnight in Chernobyl, he lives in New York City.

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Praise for Midnight in Chernobyl

Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight at Chernobyl is a superb account of the catastrophic accident that occurred in the No 4 reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986. Higginbotham’s research is thorough and enlightening; much has emerged about what really happened following the fall of the Soviet Union. An experienced journalist, he makes the complex historical, political, technical and human aspects of this dramatic story intelligible. His book is a pleasure to read.

Piers Paul Read, award-winning author of Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors

A masterpiece of reporting and storytelling that puts us on the ground for one of the most important events of the twentieth century. Adam Higginbotham opens a world nearly impossible to penetrate, then finds truths inside we weren’t supposed to discover. As readers, we could not hope for a more thrilling and visceral adventure. As citizens of the world, we ignore Midnight in Chernobyl at our peril.

Robert Kurson, New York Times bestselling author of Shadow Divers and Rocket Men

A definitive book. Adam Higginbotham has written a wonderful and chilling account of how the Chernobyl disaster happened, featuring protagonists and victims, party bosses and hapless engineers, confusion and cover up. The story of how the reactor exploded and its grisly aftermath are told with thriller-like flair. Higginbotham captures the scientific and the human, in a tale of hubris and doomed ambition.

Luke Harding, New York Times bestselling author of Collusion and The Snowden Files

Midnight in Chernobyl is the most thorough and scrupulously reported book to appear on the greatest nuclear disaster of the 20th century. Attentive and humane, it is also a gripping read on the tragic intersection of nuclear and Soviet power.

Keith Gessen, author of A Terrible Country and translator of Voices from Chernobyl

Here is a triumph of investigative reportage, exquisite science writing, and heart-pounding storytelling. With Midnight in Chernobyl, Adam Higginbotham gives us a glimpse of Armageddon, but carries it off with such narrative verve that he somehow makes it entertaining. One thing is assured: After reading this astonishing, terrifying book, you will never think of nuclear power in quite the same way again.

Hampton Sides, author of In the Kingdom of Ice and On Desperate Ground

Written with authority, this superb book reads like a classic disaster story and reveals a Soviet empire on the brink....[A] vivid and exhaustive account.

Kirkus Reviews

Adam Higginbotham's brilliantly well-written Midnight In Chernobyl draws on new sources and original research to illuminate the true story of one of history’s greatest technological failures - and, along with it, the bewildering reality of everyday life during the final years of the Soviet Union.

Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History and Red Famine: Stalin’s War On Ukraine

Midnight in Chernobyl is top-notch historical narrative: a tense, fast-paced, engrossing, and revelatory product of more than a decade of research....a stunningly detailed account....For all its wealth of information, the work never becomes overwhelming or difficult to follow. Higginbotham humanizes the tale, maintaining a focus on the people involved and the choices, both heroic and not, they made in unimaginable circumstances. This is an essential human tale with global consequences.


The most comprehensive, most thoroughly detailed history yet to appear ... a compelling, panoramic account of the disaster set in its broader context.

Christian Science Monitor

Spellbinding ... profound ... an excellent, enthralling account of the disaster and its fallout.

Book Page

Superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying . . . the accident unfurls with a horrible inevitability. Weaving together the experiences of those who were there that night, Higginbotham marshals the details so meticulously that every step feels spring-loaded with tension. . . . Amid so much rich reporting and scrupulous analysis, some major themes emerge. . . . Higginbotham’s extraordinary book is another advance in the long struggle to fill in some of the gaps, bringing much of what was hidden into the light.

New York Times

An account that reads almost like the script for a movie . . . Higginbotham has captured the terrible drama.

The Wall Street Journal

Secrecy, stupidity and farce: the full story of what caused Chernobyl. Surely definitive.

Lewis Jones, Sunday Telegraph

A nuclear thriller. Higginbotham has done some remarkable research... impressive.

Julie McDowall, The Times

A chilling book.

Mail on Sunday

Gripping... brilliantly dissected in this electrifying account. The power of Higginbotham's book is its layered detail and driving narrative, but also in the context.

Irish Independent

Utterly gripping and superbly researched… Higginbotham shows brilliantly how the tragedy contributed to the collapse of the whole Soviet system that had created it.

BBC History Magazine

The most frightening book you’ll read this year, or next... the story of humanity in both its best and worst iterations. Higginbotham has told it with a calm regard for the balance between history and journalism, momentousness and human simplicity. If it’s the most frightening book you’ll read this year, it is also one of the most uplifting.

The Herald

An invaluable contribution to history... tells a compelling story exceptionally well.

Serhii Plokhy, Evening Standard

Highly readable . . . Higginbotham [is] a skilled science writer. . . . Mr. Higginbotham’s book reflects extensive on-the-scene research. . . . and vividly describes the futile attempts of engineers to bring a runaway reactor under control.

The Washington Times

In fascinating detail, Higginbotham chronicles how the drama played out, showing that Soviet hubris in part led to the accident and Soviet secrecy compounded it.


The book reads like an adventure novel, but it’s a richly researched non-fiction work by a brilliant storyteller. . . . Get and read this gripping account to understand why people are still so afraid of nuclear power.

Skeptic Magazine's Science Salon

This is a highly detailed, carefully documented, beautifully narrated telling of this breathtakingly complex accident and its mitigation.


Midnight in Chernobyl is a master class in reporting.

The National Book Review

Higginbotham tells the story of the disaster and its gruesome aftermath with thriller-like flair. Midnight in Chernobyl is wonderful and chilling ... written with skill and passion. A tale of hubris and doomed ambition.

Luke Harding, The Observer

Adam Higginbotham uses all of the techniques of the top-notch longform journalist to full effect. He swoops us into the heart of the catastrophe.

Oliver Bullough, The Guardian

A colourful, well-researched book.

Times Literary Supplement

A gripping, miss-your-subway-stop read. Higginbotham captures the nerve-racked Soviet atmosphere brilliantly, mostly through vivid details about the participants.

New York Times Book Review

A riveting, deeply reported reconstruction of a catastrophe

LA Times

A searing account... explores in thriller-like detail the appalling human cost of an explosive combination of scientific hubris, bureaucratic incompetence and political secrecy and paranoia. A testament to innumerable individual acts of astonishing courage.

Daily Mail

Reads like a thriller: forensic, compelling and utterly terrifying.

Mail on Sunday


The Daily Telegraph

Higginbotham’s superb account of the April 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is one of those rare books about science and technology that read like a tension-filled thriller. Replete with vivid detail and sharply etched personalities, this narrative of astounding incompetence moves from mistake to mistake, miscalculation to miscalculation, as it builds to the inevitable, history-changing disaster.

Ten Best Books of 2019, New York Times