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Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl wins The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2018

Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl wins The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2018

Serhii Plokhy has tonight been named the winner of the £30,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction for Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy, published by Allen Lane.

Serhii Plokhy, Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University, documents the context and conditions that led to the avoidable catastrophe contaminating over half of Europe on that fateful day in 1986. He is uniquely placed as a Ukrainian to bring the events, in all their drama, to life and has had access to recently opened archives to create this definitive account.

In an interview given for the awards ceremony , Serhii Plokhy comments:             

‘We have to be super careful with nuclear energy, because it was introduced into the world as the cleanest energy possible. Today with global warming there is again another attempt to bring it back as a solution to the problems that we have today with climate, and the lesson that I learned from looking at Chernobyl is that yes it is the cleanest energy as long as nothing happens. Once it happens it is the dirtiest energy in the world.’

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. He has published in English, Russian and Ukrainian as well as having taught in Canada, Ukraine and the USA.


Fiammetta Rocco, chair of the judges, said:
“Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl is an unprecedented retelling of a familiar disaster. It is a horror story – of political cynicism and scientific ignorance – in which the world was saved only by heroism and luck. This extraordinary account leaves you wondering: could the narrowly missed nuclear Armageddon of Chernobyl happen again, with even worse consequences?”

The 2018 judging panel is chaired by The Economist’s culture correspondent, Fiammetta Rocco. She is joined by Stephen Bush, journalist and political commentator; Susan Brigden, historian; Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, mathematician and campaigner; and Nigel Warburton, philosopher.

Mark Urquhart, Partner at Baillie Gifford, said:
“We are delighted that Chernobyl has won the 2018 prize. This cautionary tale feels extremely relevant to a world grappling with global energy issues and deserves to be widely read. The quality of the short list must have made this an extremely hard decision for the judging panel with many fine works of non fiction proving again the strength of the genre.”

Alongside Chernobyl the other titles on the shortlist were:

  • Hello World: How to be Human in The Age of The Machine, Hannah Fry (Doubleday)
  • The Spy and the Traitor, Ben Macintyre (Viking)
  • Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man, Thomas Page McBee (Canongate Books)
  •  Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, Stephen R Platt (Atlantic)
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh:  The Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity, Carl Zimmer (Picador)



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