Publishers Weekly Review
Journalist Higginbotham offers a crash course on the Soviet "Era of Stagnation" and the development of the U.S.S.R. nuclear complex in this busy account of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown. Struggling to unravel the complex story behind the tragedy, Higginbotham piles detail upon detail: the amount of champagne one worker consumed that critical April night; insights into the cultural cravings of Soviet Man ("Dyatlov had fulfilled every autodidactic expectation of the Soviet Man, dedicating himself to his work by day and steeping himself in culture by night") and other tidbits. The result is an exhaustive history that is neither definitive nor harrowing, and repeats much of the mass of information already published on the subject (for example, that Soviet engineers knew of the weaknesses of the reactor model used in Chernobyl and that authorities tried to downplay, even deny, the disaster). Packing in 10-plus years of research and interviews, the author zigzags between cities, countries, and time zones in a disjointed attempt to recreate the doomed reactor's last hours. He devotes dense chapters to the West's reaction, the elaborate cleanup, and the even more complex Soviet cover-up, but fails to provide a deep and clear understanding of the human error and heroism that are at the heart of this story. Readers looking for a definitive account of this disaster may want to look elsewhere. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.