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Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World's Deadliest Industrial Disaster Hardcover – June 3, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

On the night of December 3, 1984, a cyanide cloud drifted over the streets of Bhopal, India, set loose by a leak in a nearby chemical plant. When the deadly fog lifted untold numbers of the city's residents--perhaps as many as 30,000, by some accounts--lay dead, while half a million others were injured. Dominique Lapierre, a French journalist and longtime champion of India's poor, joins with Spanish writer Javier Moro to recount the terrors of that night, about which the whole truth may never be known. The deaths are but one part of the authors' long, sometimes elaborate tale, which relates how the industrial conglomerate Union Carbide had come to build its vast chemical complex at Bhopal, one meant to be a glory of technology and, ironically, to save thousands of lives brought low by insect-wrought starvation. There are few villains but many heroes in the authors' account, which explores the margins at which good intentions conflict with the profit motive, at which cost-cutting omissions yield horrifically unintended consequences. It all makes for a thoughtful and disturbing book. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

As with Lapierre's City of Hope, this latest project, co-written with Spanish travel writer and journalist Moro (The Jaipur Foot), is part historical documentation and part dramatization, a modern fable depicting the communities that weathered the effects of early globalization in India. After DDT was banned in 1973, American chemical giant Union Carbide began to push Sevin, a pesticide that calls for highly toxic and unstable ingredients in its production. They built a processing plant in Bhopal, India, where a combination of poor supervision and penny-pinching tactics eventually led to the world's worst industrial disaster: on December 3, 1984, the plant sprung a leak during routine maintenance procedures. The resulting noxious vapors killed between 16,000 and 30,000 and left 500,000 permanently injured. As Lapierre and Moro recount the disaster, they weave in the story of a family of peasants forced to leave their farmland and move to the Bhopal region, where their fate intersected tragically with that of the plant. The moral of the story is familiar (what's good for Union Carbide is not so good for the world), but it still packs a bitterly ironic punch. With their canned dialogue and patronizing tone, the close-ups of Indian life are not as effective as the authors' straightforward history of the accident. Nevertheless, the inherent drama of the story keeps the pages turning, and its lessons make the book well worth picking up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (June 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446530883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446530880
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Rarely I start a book and can not put it down until the very last page. Being a avid reader of various topics for many years, Five Past Midnight at Bhopal was one such book, that made me stay till two in the morning, unable to put it down.
I faintly remember the incident at Bhopal, having been fairly young at the time to take in all the details, or appreciate the human tragedy that has occured, so I did not hesitate to buy this book as soon as it was published, being previously unfamilair with the works of Lapierre and Moro.
What makes this book so powerful is its unflinching humanity. Some of the thousands of victims that died that night, suddenly were alive with a history, and the authors with obvious sympathy, transform wretched, destitute, outcast people into heroes..their lives, joys, aspirations, optimism in the face of impossible odds is a wonderful triumph of the human spirit, regardless of how many gods it worships.
The moment when one of these people gets the first TV set, to the amazement of all the slum dwellers, is very touching and powerful..When the wedding preparations are made, and the joy of the parents borrowing money from a usurer to make it the most beautiful day of their daughter's life, is full of dignity..In short, the authors succeed on one level, to pay hommage to people that are forgotten in their own country and certainly in the world.
Yet the whole book is about the tragedy of the factory, and although I believe that the incident was partly caused by the cost cutting of Union Carbide,partly because of the inefficiency, and lack of training of the employees..(I did not join the authors in their apparent anti globalization undertones), the effect and devastation was mind boggling.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on August 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Five Past Midnight in Bhopal" documents the story of the famous disaster at the Union Carbide plant in India that killed between 16,000 and 30,000 people. The reason the death toll is so variable is because most of the victims were among the very poorest in a country that has a staggering numbers of such people. Whole familes were killed, leaving nobody behind to report their deaths. Authors Dominic Lapierre and Javier Moro recount the disaster by using the technique of the non-fiction novel rather than reporting the events in a straight narrative. There are no notes and no bibliography, just a 400 page narrative of the story from the inception of the plans to build the Union Carbide plant to the aftermath of the tragedy.
The authors build the story through interviews with the workers at the plant, survivors from the city and several Union Carbide employees. The tale that emerges is one of an unfortunately preventable disaster that occurred because of misguided corporate decisions, the faultiest of which was probably the decision to build and run such a technologically complex and potentially dangerous facility in a third world country in the first place. Union Carbide also suffered from a misreading of the Indian marketplace and ultimately from a horribly misguided cost cutting plan that decimated safety proceedures at the plant and directly led to the disaster.
Lapierre and Moro are excellent writers whose prose is compellingly readable, though a bit overly dramatic at times. The style of the book is likely to put off some readers, who may be expecting more straightforward reporting. I should also note that the book concludes with an appeal for donations to help the poverty stricken in India, further illustrating that it is not a work of journalism.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Vijay K. Gurbani on December 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World's Deadliest Industrial Disaster, Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro - The gas leak in Bhopal in the winter of 1984 claimed 3,787 lives. That's the official count; unofficial estimates range from 20,000 dead and half a million suffering from the after-effects of inhaling a noxious gas. Why did the tragedy happen? Simple: greed. Union Carbide, in a zeal to supply more pesticide than could be used in the subcontinent, built a plant to produce the pesticide locally. When the Indian droughts and distribution problems conspired to reduce their revenues, UC did what any western corporation does with pride: reduce costs. In this case, costs were reduced by allowing the safety systems of the plant to atrophy. The air-conditioner which should have maintained a regulating temprature was shut down; the flare which would normally have burned off the excess gas was extinguished; the pipes which would have shunted the execss gas to other tanks were left to rust; the employees who should be monitoring the saftey functions of the plant were let go. After all, UC thought, a plant that was not producing any pesticide could not turn into an environment disaster. They were wrong.

Due to a series of unfortunate occurences, gas pressure built up in the tanks causing it to escape, with deadly results. Since UC had not seen fit to provide information on the composition of the gas (Methyl isocynate, or MIC) to the local government, no effective antidote could be used by the hospitals when affected people started to arrive. By the morning of December 3, 1984, thousands were dead.

The name Bhopal is synonymous with the disaster that occurred there 20 years ago.
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