Deadly secret: Why Chernobyl is having a zeitgeist moment

Ideas

Deadly secret: Why Chernobyl is having a zeitgeist moment

Historian who helped reignite interest in the Cold War catastrophe explains that it's no big surprise

Hannah Betts

Chernobyl may have occurred in 1986, but something about it is clearly feeling very 2019.

A couple of weeks ago, Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy’s gripping bestseller, Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy, won the coveted Pushkin House Book Prize, having already been awarded the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-fiction. Meanwhile, the UK TV series Abandoned Engineering is visiting Pripyat – once a showpiece city meant to represent the future of the Soviet Union, which was abandoned after the explosion at Chernobyl – as one of its featured “ghost towns”.

Plokhy’s riveting account of human error and state duplicity is rightly being hailed as a classic. Meanwhile, HBO’s brilliantly horrendous series, Chernobyl, has been declared the highest-rated television show of all time by IMDb (Internet Movie Database). Over in Russia, a “patriotic” version of the incident featuring American spies has been shot by television channel NTV, and a film about the Ukrainian disaster will be released in 2020. For once, in this age of television overload, it feels as if everyone is talking about the same thing – and labouring under the assumption that they understand nuclear physics...

This article is reserved for Times Select subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Times Select content.

Times Select

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.