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Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl Hardcover – International Edition, August 29, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mycio takes us on a timely tour of the eerie, surprisingly vigorous area around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that's too radioactive for safe human habitation, yet where, 20 years after the explosion, flora and fauna are "thriving." Among abandoned towns, thousands of cormorants nest, and Przewalskis, a breed of wild horse, live seemingly unharmed on irradiated grass. A few people remain: workers decommissioning the plant, bureaucrats and scientists struggling with chronic underfunding, and samosels, elderly squatters so homesick that Ukraine finally let them stay. Mycio, former Kiev correspondent for the L.A. Times, is a good guide, clearly conveying the niceties of radionuclides; the elaborate, jerry-built structures containing the worst of the radiation; and the impossibility of cleaning the place up. She finds occasional humor and plenty of astonishment, as when a herd of red deer cross her path: "My recorder preserved my inarticulate reaction: 'Super. Wow. My God, they're beautiful!' " Mycio gives plenty of fuel for the discussion of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel. Not all readers will share her cautious optimism, yet her verdict, that Chernobyl is not simply a disaster but a terrible paradox, is convincing. B&w photos, map.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"...a completely unexpected piece of natural history. ...Mycio displays only the best and most consistent journalistic instincts..." -- Providence Journal, September 25, 2005

"...tourists, (are) participating in what may be the strangest vacation... the packaged tour of the Chernobyl exclusion zone..." -- C.J. Chivers, New York Times, June, 2005

"A fascinating look at an isolated area that few will ever visit…" -- Library Journal, September 15, 2005

"Mary Mycio takes the reader on a fascinating personal journey through a contaminated landscape that paradoxically thrives with wildlife." -- David Holley, Moscow correspondent, Los Angeles Times

"The new Chernobyl wilderness -- radioactive, yet greenly blooming -- has one of the strangest stories in the modern world." -- Bruce Sterling, author of Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Joseph Henry Press; First Printing edition (August 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0309094305
  • ISBN-13: 978-0309094306
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #925,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Lee Parsons on May 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book works on several levels. The initial premise is that the Chenobyl disaster did not create a barren wasteland, as we might have anticipated. Rather, the "Zone of Alienation", from which nearly all humans have been removed, has become a flourishing nature preserve. Working from that point, the author explores the disaster and its consequences from a number of perspectives. There is a discussion of the accident itself, of the initial efforts to deal with it, and then with the long term effects, not only upon the plants and animals of the Zone, but also upon people - who continue to work and even live inside the Zone.

The writing is clear, perhaps due to Ms. Mycio's journalistic background. It is also very engaging, because she is intensely interested in the subject, and shares the reasons for her interest with the reader. For those of us who will never have the opportunity to visit the Zone, this book is really the next best thing.

The author has a website which makes a terrific supplement to the book, with generous photo galleries organized according in parallel to the book: [...]
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Format: Hardcover
There is a popular song in Ukrainian Folk culture, "Two Colors". Black, that is sadness and Red that is joy. These two colors often are used in the famous Ukrainian Embroidered shirts and blouses. My reading of Mary Mycio's fabulous book, "Wormwood Forest" reminded me of this song. There is so much pain in this book, yet there is joy at coming to know some truths about a modern day cover-up. Mycio writes about complicated technical things regarding nuclear energy and the horrible accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine in such away that you don't need to have a scientific background to understand the picture. Yet, those with a scientific background will find this book informative. Want to find out what happened at Chernobyl, and what's happening now - then read this book!
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Format: Hardcover
I have put off reading "Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl" in part because with all the other bad news we are subjected to, I wanted to avoid a real downer. However once I started reading the book I could not put it down. Mary Mycio has captured both the despair (of which I was afraid) and the hope (in which I had difficulty believing) of the Chernobyl disaster. The name "Wormwood Forest" comes from the close relative of true wormwood that is one of the characteristic plants of the Chernobyl forest.

Certainly the horror of the melted power plant core and the pockets of high radiation levels present still hangs over the human inhabitants of "the Zone," as the area within a 30 km circle of the reactor is known, is palpable enough. This is especially so given the huge amount of human suffering engendered by the explosion, both in direct death by radiation for the firefighters to the increase of thyroid cancer in children. Still, as Mycio points out so eloquently, the worst predictions did not materialize and the Zone has become a wildlife (admittedly radioactive wildlife!) bonanza. Certainly selection for resistance to radiation took a terrible toll among the local mammals, birds, plants, and others. Sill the existence and even flourishing of the local biota is a surprising and hopeful development. Mycio has, in my opinion, done a very good job of describing this ambiguous result. Her style of writing is in fact very powerful in telling the story of Chernobyl.

It is obvious that no one (other than perhaps James Lovelock) would want to recreate "the Zone" in other localities on the planet and that the failure of the reactor is in every sense a cautionary tale.
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Format: Hardcover
I came across this book when I made friends with someone from the Ukraine... the book grew and grew on me as I read it; I did not realize until towards the end that the author had deftly taken us through the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and then through a gestalt of the land and people. (I like the casual way she would check her radiation meter to see how much radiation she was getting at a given pond, bog or town). So we kind of weave our way through the history, then the air, plants, ground, water,animals, people, and towns affected by Chernobyl. There's a lot of science but Mary Mycio makes you feel like, hey, you too understand all the bits and pieces about leftover radiation. So two things happen as you read the book; you feel like are in the car with her and her guides. And then to you see how nature has come back in an awesome way and taken over what is still a nuclear wasteland.(The wildlife has thrived and rebounded since people are gone from their radioactive world). Amazing book; all science majors should read this!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mary Mycio is a 2nd generation American-Ukrainian. The disaster at Chernobyl hit her family harder than most because of their links to the region. Ms. Mycio made dozens of trips to the disaster site over a period of several years in her effort to learn both the scale of the disaster and the miraculous recovery of the natural lands around it.

In addition to a wealth of facts and figures, the book is loaded with personal anecdotes and as a result, Ms. Mycio's constant sense of amazement and underlying anxiety over radiation exposure adds a very human element to what could easily have become a dry academic treatise. Her account of the explosive recovery of the natural environment inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone covers all the most important scientific developments and research on the recovery interspersed with very human tales of the people who work there full time and those who have returned to live in the midst of radiation that is certain to shorten their natural lifespans.

Nature, it turns out, thrives in radioactive zones where long-term exposure is fatal to humans.
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