Kate Brown of MIT is back with another thrilling book – Manual for Survival. In it she unravels decades of intentional misinformation by providing evidence gleaned from years of extensive archival and field research – but with some unwise decisions.
She dismisses Life Span Study data in favor of Vorobiev’s work (who uses a biodosimetry method much more accurate than whole body counting and dose reconstruction), which could prove disastrous to health in areas contaminated by lead pollution.
It’s not a history book
HURI’s Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program has touted MIT historian Kate Brown’s new book, Manual for Survival, as an in-depth account of the effects and cover-up of Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Unfortunately, however, the book contains numerous serious errors: disregarding evidence from Life Span Study studies; dismissing physicians’ work; misrepresenting Angelina Gus’kova as an expert radiation sickness specialist who helped save lives while developing comprehensive radiation medicine knowledge; disregarding research by Ron Chesser and Robert Baker on small mammals in Chernobyl hot spot regions showing no difference in genetic damage between affected and unaffected regions compared with unaffected regions.
Still, the book represents an invaluable addition to Chernobyl studies. It exposes Soviet (and some Western) cover-ups and relocation practices; provides concrete figures which go beyond official excuses; and makes clear that radiation from Chernobyl merely accelerated an already damaging process initiated during atmospheric nuclear bomb tests conducted in the 1950s.
It’s not a science book
Manual for Survival is an academic work, yet its enthusiasm in its use of Soviet and former-Soviet sources may be excessive. For instance, its treatment of the Life Span Study allows it to make claims that radiation exposure is far worse than what UN organizations and the International Commission on Radiological Protection believe – though both bodies consulted key Soviet scientists like Angelina Gus’kova.
Brown also employs false research results to debunk Fred Mettler and others who investigated genetic damage caused by Chernobyl contamination. For instance, she dismisses findings of an MIT-led survey on reindeer meat contaminated with 137Cs as inconclusive, disregarding that an independent Norwegian study found no indications of genetic harm from such levels .
But the book makes an especially serious misrepresentation by suggesting that the cover-up was part of some grand conspiracy. That argument undermines its credibility while discrediting an impressive body of evidence supporting it.
It’s not a memoir
Brown, an associate professor at MIT, specializes in environmental and nuclear history of the Soviet Union. Her book exposes how United Nations and KGB conspired to cover up Chernobyl’s devastating health impacts – but her evidence becomes bogged down in conspiracy theories and miscalculations; for instance she suggests that Ukrainian berries containing up to 3000 Bq kg-1 of 137Cs may be being blended with noncontaminated ones before exporting them across Western Europe.
She goes beyond official excuses — such as difficulty tracking down cancer causes; poor Soviet healthcare and governance made collecting data impossible — with concrete figures that reveal the true scope of Chernobyl. Furthermore, she highlights that its effects were only an acceleration of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing during the 1950s and ’60s — something everyone needs to hear and read up on. It’s well worth your time.
It’s not a thriller
Catastrophes occur when large systems become so discordant with their environment that even minor adjustments can bring it crashing down – this has happened with oil rigs, spacecraft and nuclear power plants.
Chernobyl wasn’t just an isolated incident; its effects would continue to ripple through society for years afterward. With her unique blend of historical research, investigative journalism, and poetic reporting skills, MIT history professor Kate Brown exposes these hidden costs through her brilliant book: the cost of Chernobyl.
Brown begins by taking Moscow’s official death count of 53 and continues her investigative work from there. She takes issue with Soviet (and some Western) cover-ups, relocations without adequate planning, and excessive doses of radiation administered without need. Brown illustrates how Chernobyl is not simply about its catastrophe itself but about how political exigencies shape responses and long-term damage incurred through radiation from nuclear energy and weaponry over eight decades.