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10 Best Books About Chernobyl (2024)

Best Books About ChernobylIn 1986, a horrible event took place that almost instantly achieved a world record of being known as the world’s most horrific nuclear disaster. This event occurred in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, very close to the city of Pripyat in northern Ukraine, and is considered the worst because it involved the most casualties and financial costs for a disaster of the sort.

The Chernobyl Liquidators

As soon as the disaster took place, all alarms were raised and an intense panic occurred throughout the entire town, mostly those who personally saw the explosion themselves. In a short period of time, approximately 500.000 personnel were involved in calming things down and fixing the problem. These people became known as the Chernobyl Liquidators.

The Consequences of Chernobyl

During the event, 31 people died as a direct result of the Chernobyl disaster. However, these numbers rose in the thousands later on, as a result of radiation and contamination, spreading throughout the land. In terms of finances, it cost 18 billion Soviet rubles to handle the matters then. Adjusted for inflation, today that sum is the same as close to 70 billion US dollars.

Best Books About Chernobyl

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham


More than Just the Chernobyl Disaster

Midnight in Chernobyl is easily one of the best books about Chernobyl that you can find, and there is no better book to get our list going. After over 20 years of lies and uncertainty over the event and what actually happened, author Adam Higginbotham delivers a detailed account including exclusive files, interviews, and brand new findings that uncover the truth behind the tragic disaster.

Despite being nonfiction, this book reads very much like sci-fi, and you will be shocked at some of the details that are included. Apart from the Chernobyl disaster, you will also learn plenty about the good and the bad in the Soviet Union, and how an already collapsing economy was devastated even more after the explosion.

Chernobyl’s Effect on the Soviet Union

There are also some bright elements included, mainly the stories of incredible sacrifice, heroism, and dedication to the motherland. This book will tell you everything you need to know about the Chernobyl explosion, as well as the tremendous impact that has had on bringing the Soviet Union closer to collapse, both financially and politically, not to mention being a major environmental and scientific blow.

Many experts also believe that this event was the pivotal moment that decided the outcome of the Cold War. As we mentioned, this is more than just a review of the Chernobyl disaster, as it features a unique guide on even more insights regarding events before and after the explosion.

Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich


Interviewing Those Involved

First published in 1997, Voices from Chernobyl is one of the best-rated books about Chernobyl. It contains the accounts of Soviet reporter Svetlana Alexievich, who witnessed the entire incident unfold, and gathered a lot of valuable information through her interviews of hundreds of people that were directly affected by the disaster, including firefighters, regular citizens, and those hired to clean up the mess.

Through their stories, you will be able to see just how brutal and devastating this event was, destroying thousands of homes and families that are feeling the effects of the tragedy to this day.

The Reality of Chernobyl

It is the first book to include personal accounts of people that went through and felt the consequences of the event. This is the main reason why this is one of the top books about Chernobyl that you can read. You will gain a good understanding of what the disaster actually meant for the people that were most strongly affected by it.

Due to this real and uncensored display of the Chernobyl disaster, Voices from Chernobyl can be quite a horrifying read for many people, and it reads more like a real-life post-apocalyptic story than anything else. However, this is a good thing and will help you understand the full reality of what the disaster caused, a reality that is much scarier than you might have seen in the movies.

Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide by Darmon Richter


Chernobyl Today

If you are looking for a book that will fully explain how Chernobyl looks right now, and how it is perhaps the most unique and popular ghost town in the world, then this fascinating book by Darmon Richter, who spent some time as a tour guide in Chernobyl, should probably be the first one on your list.

An atomic apocalypse has been humankind’s greatest fear in the last couple of decades, and Chernobyl in its current state is the closest thing we have to show us how a post-apocalyptic world would look like.

Taking a Tour Through Chernobyl

The book is filled with photographs to keep you engaged, and includes the accounts of some of the people who witnessed the event, including police officers, engineers, evacuees, and more. Everyone, both civil and military, who participated in helping control this disaster were known as the Chernobyl Liquidators.

If you ever wanted to visit Chernobyl yourself, but don’t think that you will be able to in the near future, or even if you already visited or wish to do so in the future then this book will tell you everything you need to know. Chernobyl receives more than 250.000 tourists each year, but this book will go much deeper than the most popular tourist spots and will lead you into the many villages and lesser-known places that will let you see the full scope of the disaster.

Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy


A Tale from a Chernobyl Survivor

Written by an award-winning historian, and most importantly, a Chernobyl survivor, The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe is one of the best-selling books about Chernobyl out there, and not without reason. It is also one of the most extensive books on the topic, including both inside accounts from a person who was actually there, and his merciless ability to show us the absurdities of the Soviet system.

A Constant Reminder of Nuclear Disaster

Plokhy tracks back the causes of the nuclear disaster, and as you’d expect, it led back to the incompetent and corrupt rule of the Soviet government and its flawed nuclear industry. According to any Chernobyl disaster books review you can find, this book is the densest and most brutally real book you can read about the event.

With many more nuclear plants and projects today, Chernobyl should be a good reminder of the consequences that mismanaging nuclear power can bring. Despite its historical theme, this book serves as an urgent call to action for today’s governments to make sure that nothing similar ever happens again, because if it does, chances are it will be much worse than what happened in 1986.

Growth and Decay by David McMillan


The Evolution of Chernobyl

David McMillan is a Canadian photographer that has visited the Pripyat Exclusion zone over 20 times since 1994. As you’d expect from a photographer, he took plenty of footage during those visits, and luckily for us, he decided to share them in his book that will make you feel as if you are experiencing everything together.

As he went back each year, McMillan visited the same sites from previous years and was able to capture the effects of nature taking over the entire city and surrounding areas. This is one of the best Chernobyl books about the current state of the city, and its evolution since the 1990s. It will give you a clear picture, no pun intended, of how the city looks, and how it evolved over time.

Experiencing the Exclusion Zone Visually

Through his many explorations of the Exclusion Zone, either alone or accompanied by a scientist to measure the effects of radiation, McMillan was able to give us a visual account of how everything looks through his incredible photographs that you’d wish would never end. As they say, one picture is worth 1.000 words, and considering that the book is over 200 pages worth of mostly pictures, there is plenty of subject matter to be explored.

Chernobyl 01:23:40 by Andrew Leatherbarrow


The Fight for Survival

01:23:40 is the exact time when Alexandr Akimov pressed the emergency shutdown button of the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear site. With a press of a button, thousands of people lost their homes, many of them died, and the Soviet Union entered the final stages of its existence.

This is one of the best Chernobyl books you can find, and it’s a result of over 5 years’ worth of research, including what happened at the reactor, and the desperate battle of the scientists to stop a nuclear disaster.

The Soviet Union’s Fate

It also fully displays the heroism of men who were not afraid to enter zones that were so strongly radiated that machines wouldn’t even work. Such bravery couldn’t be left excluded from the story, and Andrew was well aware of that. It’s exciting to read about men risking their lives to save others, yet we will never know the fear they felt while entering such a dangerous zone.

Combining the historical facts and accounts of the events that took place after the explosion, including the famous trial that marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, as well as Leatherborrow’s own experience in visiting the site of the disaster, along with 45 pages worth of photographs. This is one of those books on Chernobyl that will tell you everything there is to know about the reasons why it happened, how it was handled and the effects it had on the people, and the current state of the city and surrounding areas as well.

Chernobyl: Confessions of a Reporter by Igor Kostin


The First Image of Disaster

When the explosion of the fourth reactor at the V.I Lenin nuclear plant in Chernobyl happened, Igor Kostin, a journalist with the Novosti Agency was one of the first ones on the scene and took the first-ever photograph of the site. During that time, Kostin risked his life roaming around the site of a nuclear explosion 400 times stronger than the one in Hiroshima, and worked tirelessly to document everything for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Evacuating Chernobyl

Over the next 20 years, Kostin continued investigating the effects that the explosion has had on the people and the environment. His decades of work are perfectly laid out in “Confessions of a Reporter”, one of the best books about the Chernobyl disaster out there.

Kostin talks plenty about the global impact the disaster had on people far beyond Ukraine and Belarus, giving you a great idea of the real scope of it. With the incredible shots, he was able to take right after the explosion, as well as during the evacuation process when thousands of people were forced out of their homes on a bus, this book by Kostin will make you feel like you were a resident of Chernobyl in 1986, without the dangers that were present there.

All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon


The Collapse of the Soviet Union

This is another compelling novel about the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the main focus being the Chernobyl disaster. It captures the story of four fictional characters from different parts of the Union, and how their life would forever change after that fateful night on April 26th in 1986.

This is unlike the other best books on Chernobyl on this list, due to the fact that it doesn’t solely focus on the nuclear disaster, although that is still an important part of the book. McKeon instead focuses on presenting the sheer incompetence of the Soviet government, and the unrest that followed due to it.

Surviving a Horrible Oppression

McKeon does an excellent job at capturing the oppressive Soviet system, and the hard lives it has brought to its people, but through the four main characters, he also captures the strength of the human spirit, and its ability to survive through even the worst oppression and disasters.

What’s most impressive is the author’s ability to describe even the worst of events such as people dying from radiation, in such a captivating language that will stick with the reader. As a result, it is no wonder why this is one of the most popular books about Chernobyl.

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman


The Red Sky of Chernobyl

In this captivating, fictional story by Anne Blankman, two girls wake up in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic red sky in their home town of Chernobyl. Despite not liking each other, the two find themselves on a train to Leningrad as the entire city is being evacuated. This is one of the two main stories in which many people believe is one of the best books on Chernobyl.

The second story involves a third girl, who is desperate to escape Kiev as the Germans are getting closer each day. Unfortunately for her, she is Jewish, and her journey will be all the more difficult.

A Story of Survival

Although one of the stories is not related to Chernobyl, it is still a great read and shows how different girls from two different and challenging time periods had to learn who to trust on their own in the midst of two horrible events. It is a story of survival and strength, something everyone should be excited to read about.

Despite being targeted mainly for a younger audience, this book can be equally as touching for all age groups and will have you thinking about it for some time after you’ve read it. The two stories inside are both sad and uplifting at the same time for different reasons.

Manual for Survival by Kate Brown


The Full Scope of the Chernobyl Disaster

Manual for Survival is one of those books on Chernobyl that dive deeper into the political side of the event, and shows how closed off the Soviet Union was to the rest of the world. Despite many offers for help by international aid organizations who were seeking to assist the victims, they received no cooperation from the Soviet regime, and access to the most affected sites was denied.

Author Kaye Brown combines her decade-long research with a large number of interviews with people from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, unveiling the full scope of the disaster and the destruction it had on the people both physically and mentally. Despite the extensive information and details included in this book, it is still very easy to read and is easily one of the best books on the Chernobyl disaster.

Risking Countless Lives

The extent to which the Soviet government was willing to go to hide and minimize the effects of the nuclear explosion is truly mind-boggling, as they were ready to risk the lives of millions of their own citizens just to avoid showing weakness to the rest of the world. All of this in the name of the “greater good” and “national security”.

Michael Englert

Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.