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

4.1 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I remember the very day (December 2-3, 1984) when I first heard about this horrific MIC (methyl isocyanate) gas leak in Bhopal, India. Thousands upon thousands of people died and it was the poorest of the poor who suffered the most. Union Carbide got away with "murder" in the way they let this MIC plant go into disrepair. None of the "safety devices" were in use at the time of this accident. MIC is an explosive chemical that should never have been made in the first place and certainly not around a huge city with over 600,000 people living there at the time yet Union Carbide did just that. Estimates are that between 16,000-30,000 people died on December 3rd (when Tank 610 finally blew up) and the gases that crept through the air directly towards the most densely populated part of the city took no prisoners. MIC breaks down into hydrocyanic acid (yes, cyanide) and it is suspected that phosgene may have also been involved, but Union Carbide refused to cooperate with local doctors about what kind of gas they were dealing with. This book is so well-written it almost reads as a novel, but it is the real deal. Dominique Lapierre & Javier Moro deftly intertwined many personalities who lived in the shanties on the Kali Grounds as well as tell the story of how MIC was introduced into the country as a component of a carbamate pesticide named "Sevin"; phosgene was another gas used, as well. Mr. Lapierre has tirelessly sought aid for many of the survivors who are now plagued with permanent blindness, horrible respiratory problems, and reproductive maladies, etc. And, the water these people drink from is still contaminated to this day (2016). Union Carbide ceased to exist from that day on it was bought out mostly by Dow Chemical. And, about reparations from this accident...Read more ›
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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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