Chernobyl book wins Pushkin Prize

News - Prizes Thursday, 13 June 2019

Serhii Plohky wins the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize for a second time, with Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy

Plohky, who is professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, becomes the first author to win the Pushkin Prize, worth £5,000, twice. His work, published by Allen Lane, was selected by a panel of five judges from a shortlist of six covering history, culture and memoir.

The award, the seventh annual edition of the prize, is the first time that the same author has won twice, following Plokhy’s win with The Last Empire in 2015. It comes at a time of fresh interest in Chernobyl, including a popular HBO series.

According to prize organisers: 'Chernobyl is the first book to comprehensively explore the origins of the 1986 nuclear power station disaster, the fatal blast, clean-up and aftermath, and the longer term consequences that helped lead to the collapse of the USSR. It draws on freshly revealed archives including of the KGB, highlights deep tensions and dysfunctionality within the Soviet political system, individual stories of bravery and courage, and lessons for the global nuclear industry today. It also indicates how central the explosion and its aftermath were to the collapse of the USSR.' The book won the Baillie Gifford (formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize) last year.

Sergei Guriev, chair of the jury, said: "The jury has faced a challenging task of choosing the winner from a very impressive short list. Each book is an excellent read which promotes better understanding of both today’s Russia and of Russian and Soviet history. But Chernobyl stands out as a well-researched and well-written masterpiece on an event of momentous importance. The Chernobyl disaster is not just a historical episode. The main themes discussed in the book strongly resonate today - and not just in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine."

The prize, run by Pushkin House, the oldest arts charity in the UK exploring, celebrating and supporting the best of Russian culture, showcases, promotes and encourages the best accessible non-fiction writing in English about Russia and the Russian-speaking world.

The panel of judges for the 2019 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize comprises: Sergei Guriev (chair), chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and professor of Economics at Sciences Po Paris; Rachel Campbell-Johnston, chief art critic, The Times; Alexander Drozdov, executive director of the Yeltsin Presidential Centre, Ekaterinberg; Alexis Peri, assistant Pprofessor at Boston University and winner of the 2018 Pushkin House Book Prize; and Andrei Zorin, professor of Russian at Oxford University and a Fellow of New College.

Douglas Smith and Stephanie Ellis-Smith, co-funders of the prize, said: "We are thrilled to congratulate Serhii Plokhy as this year’s winner for his superb book. Chernobyl is a truly masterful combination of the finest scholarship and the best story telling. A model for all historians."

Marc Polonsky, trustee of the Polonsky Foundation, which also funds the prize, said: "Once again, the Pushkin House Book Prize has demonstrated the calibre and variety of contemporary writing about Russia. Congratulations to the worthy winner selected from such a competitive field."

The full shortlist (author interviews are available on the Pushkin House website)
1983: The World at The Brink by Taylor Downing (Little, Brown)?
The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia by Mark Galeotti (Yale University Press)
To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture by Eleonory Gilburd (Belknap Press at Harvard University Press)
The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre (Viking)
Maybe Esther by Katja Petrowskaja, translated from German by Shelley Frisch (4th Estate)
Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy (Allen Lane/Penguin)

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