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The most prestigious non-fiction prize in the UK

Submissions for the 2019 edition of The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (formerly The Samuel Johnson Prize) are now open. Publishers may enter up to three non-fiction books per imprint before the submissions deadline of 12 June 2019.


The winner of the 2018 Baillie Gifford Prize was Serhii Plokhy for his book Chernobyl.


The Baillie Gifford Prize rewards excellence in non-fiction writing, bringing the best in intelligent reflection on the world to new readers. It covers all non-fiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.


The Winner

Chernobyl: History of A Tragedy

On the morning of 26 April 1986, Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine. The outburst put the world on the brink of nuclear annihilation. In the end, less than five percent of the reactor's fuel escaped, but that was enough to contaminate over half of Europe with radioactive fallout.

In Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy recreates these events in all of their drama, telling the stories of the firefighters, scientists, engineers, workers, soldiers, and policemen who found themselves caught in a nuclear Armageddon and succeeded in doing the seemingly impossible: extinguishing the nuclear inferno and putting the reactor to sleep. While it is clear that the immediate cause of the accident was a turbine test gone wrong, Plokhy shows how the deeper roots of Chernobyl lay in the nature of the Soviet political system and the flaws of its nuclear industry. A little more than five years later, the Soviet Union would fall apart, destroyed from within by its unsustainable communist ideology and the dysfunctional managerial and economic systems laid bare in the wake of the disaster.

Judges’ comment: “Serhii Plokhy’s account of the tragedy of Chernobyl describes how Cold War political pressures, a flawed nuclear industry, and human error combined to produce a nuclear disaster that affected the lives of millions and hastened the Soviet Union’s demise, but which could have been so much worse. Written in clear, precise prose, the book’s message is still urgent today: we must learn from what happened in Ukraine on April 26th, 1986.”

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