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About the book
  • 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, ongoing story of the explosion that changed the world.

It all began with a simple test. The operators working the night shift at the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant in Chernobyl would simulate the conditions of a power failure. The key question was whether the water turbines would continue spinning long enough to keep the uranium reactor cool, before the emergency generator kicked in. It would all be over in a few minutes.

Twenty-four hours later, Reactor No. 4 was an angry volcano of molten uranium. Helicopter crews were trying to smother it with sandbags whilst a plume of radioactive smoke was billowing across Western Europe. The Kremlin was shrugging its shoulders, denying that anything was amiss. This was all bad enough. But the real problems were just beginning.

As the Battle of Chernobyl wore on, the scientists on the ground came to a terrible realization: everything they had done so far had been a mistake. The temperature of the reactor was increasing, and if it got much hotter, the uranium would melt through the plant’s concrete foundation and keep going all the way down until it hit the water table, causing a second, exponentially larger explosion that would wipe out half of Europe.

We escaped that fate—just barely—but the world was changed all the same. Chernobyl bankrupted the already teetering Soviet Union and revealed a state built on a pillar of lies. Nuclear programs across the globe stopped dead in their tracks. We caught an early glimpse of what a World Without Us might look like.

Almost forty years later, the cycle is beginning again, with renewed interest in nuclear programming and the quest to build a new generation of fail-proof reactors. Meanwhile, the giant concrete sarcophagus surrounding the remains of Chernobyl is beginning to crack. The uranium inside is every bit as radioactive as the day it exploded. To fix that problem once and for all, the world will need to come together to solve one of the greatest engineering challenges it has ever faced.

In Chernobyl, Adam Higginbotham draws on original reporting and thorough archival research to tell the full story. This is the definitive account of the explosion that changed the world.

  • Pub date: 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.

Praise for Midnight in Chernobyl

“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 invaluable contribution to history... tells a compelling story exceptionally well.”

Serhii Plokhy, Evening Standard

“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

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

Mail on Sunday

“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

“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

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

The Wall Street Journal

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


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

Lewis Jones, Sunday Telegraph

“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 nuclear thriller. Higginbotham has done some remarkable research... impressive.”

Julie McDowall, The Times

“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

“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

“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

“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 chilling book.”

Mail on Sunday

“A riveting, deeply reported reconstruction of a catastrophe”

LA Times

“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

“A colourful, well-researched book.”

Times Literary Supplement

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“Midnight in Chernobyl is a master class in reporting.”

The National Book Review


The Daily Telegraph

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