Manual for Survival: An Environmental History of the Chernobyl Disaster (Paperback)

Manual for Survival: An Environmental History of the Chernobyl Disaster By Kate Brown Cover Image

Manual for Survival: An Environmental History of the Chernobyl Disaster (Paperback)

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Winner of the Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

Winner of the Marshall D. Shulman Book Prize

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction

Finalist for the Ryszard Kapuscinski Award for Literary Reportage



"A magisterial blend of historical research, investigative journalism, and poetic reportage…[A]n awe-inspiring journey." —Economist


After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, international aid organizations sought to help the victims but were stymied by post-Soviet political roadblocks. Efforts to gain access to the site of catastrophic radiation damage were denied, and the residents of Chernobyl were given no answers as their lives hung in the balance. Drawing on a decade of archival research and on-the-ground interviews in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, Kate Brown unveils the full breadth of the devastation and the whitewash that followed. Her findings make clear the irreversible impact of man-made radioactivity on every living thing; and hauntingly, they force us to confront the untold legacy of decades of weapons-testing and other catastrophic nuclear incidents.



Kate Brown is an award-winning historian of environmental and nuclear history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her previous book, Plutopia, won seven academic prizes. She splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Product Details ISBN: 9780393357769
ISBN-10: 0393357767
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 17th, 2020
Pages: 432
Language: English
Manual for Survival is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the local and global effects of Chernobyl, and its continuing impacts.

— Elena Aronova - Science

With bountiful, devastating detail, Brown describes how scientists, doctors, and journalists—mainly in Ukraine and Belarus—went to great lengths and took substantial risks to collect information.… One of the most alarming—though also eerily beautiful—aspects of Brown’s book is her description of the way radioactive material moves through organisms, ecosystems, and human society.… Manual for Survival asks a larger question about how humans will coexist with the ever-increasing quantities of toxins and pollutants that we introduce into our air, water, and soil. Brown’s careful mapping of the path isotopes take is highly relevant.

— Sophie Pinkham - New York Review of Books

Astonishingly thorough.…[A] revelatory masterpiece.
— Jerry Mathes - Orion

A handbook for a 'postnuclear reality.'
— Sonja Schmid - Nature

Brown knows her landscape exceptionally well, down to the last tiny village that suffered from the disaster.
— Serhii Plokhy - Evening Standard

Kate Brown presents a convincing challenge to the official narrative of the Chernobyl disaster. Deeply reported and elegantly written, Manual for Survival is chilling.

— Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

A remarkable book, distinguished by Kate Brown’s rare combination of skills: formidable archival history, investigative research, and vivid storytelling.
— Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

This engagingly written book reads like a cold war thriller and uncovers the devastating effects of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.
— Allison Macfarlane, director, Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, George Washington University

Gripping.… Kate Brown’s relentless, tenacious reporting shows that Chernobyl isn’t the past at all. Nothing, she makes clear, can stop its radiation from seeping through all attempts to bury the truth for a long time to come. This deftly written, impassioned, courageous book should make the world think twice about what’s at stake when we unleash nuclear reactions.
— Alan Weisman, author, The World Without Us and Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

Combining the skills of a historian, investigative reporter, and detective Kate Brown has blown the lid off the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and decades of official efforts to suppress its grim truths. Disturbing in its conclusions, destined to incite controversy, Manual for Survival is first-rate historical sleuthing.

— J.R. McNeill, author of The Great Acceleration