Toxic Holiday

We’re drawn to images and tales of disaster and apocalypse: vacant Detroit buildings fallen into disrepair, abandoned amusement parks, basic cable documentaries such as History’s Life After People. Call it a morbid fascination or disaster porn, but the notion of civilization fallen to disrepair has an inescapable allure. Of course, the concept is a lot more appealing to people who aren’t living through these disasters. In his new book Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places, journalist Andrew Blackwell dares to go up close and investigate the sites of environmental apocalypse that we’d prefer remain a continent away — the better to project our lurid fantasies of zombie armageddon, as the taste-impaired directors of recent horror flick Chernobyl Diaries chose to do. Blackwell’s disaster travelogue takes him to the irradiated Eden of Chernobyl, desolate Canadian oil strip mines, botulism-bearing bodies of sacred water in India, and the Chinese city of Linfen, which may be the most polluted place on Earth. Though such locations could easily invite hand-wringing earnestness or grim self-reflection, Blackwell retains a sharp satirical voice throughout, reaping pathos as well as gallows humor from revolting scenes of environmental catastrophe.
Thu., June 14, 6 p.m., 2012

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