A thoughtful study of catastrophe, unintended consequences, and, likely, nuclear calamities to come.




A history of the nuclear disaster that set precedents—and standards—for future mishaps of the kind.

As Plokhy (Director, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard Univ.; Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation, 2017, etc.) writes, the Ukrainian city of Prypiat and the entire “exclusion zone” created after the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor on April 26, 1986, stand as a kind of living museum, a time capsule enshrining the communist era. In 2015, the Ukrainian government removed statues of Lenin and other communist leaders from the streets, but “the monument to Lenin still stands in the center of Chernobyl.” In other respects, Chernobyl requires a more forward-looking approach; when the plant’s core melted down, an army of engineers, laborers, soldiers, police officers, and specialists had to evacuate thousands of people and attempt to isolate the power plant. They did so by dropping thousands of tons of sand, digging diversion tunnels and dams, encasing structures in concrete, and, in the end, abandoning a huge swath of land to an irradiated nature. The immediate cause of the accident, Plokhy notes, was a scheduled test that went awry, but proximate causes included cost-cutting construction shortcuts and an overly ambitious production schedule that forced the machinery into failure-prone overextension. In older times, the event might have been buried away, though atmospheric monitors would have detected it beyond the Iron Curtain. But the Chernobyl disaster occurred during the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev during the time of perestroika, and Soviet scientists were able to take the advice of Western scientists, one of whom suggested “that children be given potassium iodide tablets” in the hope of containing radiation poisoning. The author concludes that even in the wake of Chernobyl, we have not gotten much better at containing meltdowns—consider Fukushima, still poisoning the Pacific—and need to cooperate to “strengthen international control over the construction and exploitation of nuclear power stations.”

A thoughtful study of catastrophe, unintended consequences, and, likely, nuclear calamities to come.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-1709-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet