Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

2020 Recipient

Kate Brown

Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future

The Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe, or Eurasia in the field of history in the previous calendar year.

Co-Winner: Kate Brown
Title: Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (W.W. Norton & Co.)

In this meticulously researched and passionately argued study, Kate Brown explores the longterm medical and environmental effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. She weaves tales of ordinary people who struggled to mitigate the effects of government inaction with revelations about an intransigent Soviet bureaucracy too frightened to take risks during Gorbachev’s rise to power and his still fragile experiment with glasnost. But Manual for Survival is no simple screed against the Soviet state’s tendency toward self-preservation. Rather, Brown exposes a multi-layered international cover-up led by scientists, physicians, and politicians unable to look past their mental models about the efficacy of nuclear power to fully comprehend the disaster unfolding before them or who sought to protect their own horrific records of nuclear testing and its impact on their own populations. Kate Brown taps her extensive network of professional contacts and deploys her intrepid sleuthing skills to access unexamined documents and tell a story whose implications extend well past the explosion of a single reactor and into questions about our global preparation for future nuclear debacles.

Co-Winner: Brendan McGeever

Honorable Mention: Isolde Thyrêt