Manual for Survival

A Chernobyl Guide to the Future

by Kate Brown

'Remarkable . . . grips with the force of a thriller' Robert MacFarlane

An astonishing exposé of the aftermath of Chernobyl - and the plot to cover up the truth

The official death toll of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, 'the worst nuclear disaster in history', is only 54, and stories today commonly suggest that nature is thriving there. Yet award-winning historian Kate Brown uncovers a much more disturbing story, one in which radioactive isotopes caused hundreds of thousands of casualties, and the magnitude of this human and ecological catastrophe has been actively suppressed.

Based on a decade of archival and on-the-ground research, Manual for Survival is a gripping account of the consequences of nuclear radiation in the wake of Chernobyl - and the plot to cover it up. As Brown discovers, Soviet scientists, bureaucrats, and civilians documented staggering increases in cases of birth defects, child mortality, cancers and a multitude of life-altering diseases years after the disaster. Worried that this evidence would blow the lid on the effects of massive radiation release from weapons-testing during the Cold War, scientists and diplomats from international organizations, including the UN, tried to bury or discredit it. Yet Brown also encounters many everyday heroes, often women, who fought to bring attention to the ballooning health catastrophe, and adapt to life in a post-nuclear landscape, where dangerously radioactive radioactive berries, distorted trees and birth defects still persist today.

An astonishing historical detective story, Manual for Survival makes clear the irreversible impact of nuclear energy on every living thing, not just from Chernobyl, but from eight decades of radiaoactive fallout from weapons development.


  • Penguin Books Ltd; March 2019
  • ISBN: 9780241352076
  • Read online, or download in secure ePub format
  • Title: Manual for Survival
  • Author: Kate Brown
  • Imprint: Penguin

In The Press

Kate Brown presents a convincing challenge to the official narrative of the Chernobyl disaster. Deeply reported and elegantly written, "Manual for Survival" is chilling.


About The Author

Kate Brown is the author of A Biography of No Place, which won the George Louis Beer Prize from the American Historical Association for the best book in International History, and Plutopia, which won seven awards, including the Dunning and Beveridge prizes from the American Historical Association for the best book in American history. She is the first historian of the Soviet Union to be nominated to the honorary Society of American Historians, and her research has been funded by the American Academy in Berlin and by Carnegie and Guggenheim fellowships. She teaches environmental and nuclear history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Baltimore County, and lives in Washington, DC.