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Five Past Midnight in Bhopal [Hardcover]

Dominique Lapierre , Javier Moro
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 April 2002
It was five past midnight on 3 December 1984. A terrifying cloud of toxic gas escaped from an American pesticide plant in the heart of the Indian city of Bhopal, killing 16,000-30,000 and injuring half a million people. This book recounts the poignant human and technological adventure leading up to this industrial disaster and human tragedy. Hundreds of characters, situations and adventures are telescoped into this fresco of love, heroism, faith and hope. There are people from both the slums and the teak-veneered offices of Union Carbide.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First ediiton edition (2 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074322034X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743220347
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 14.8 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 572,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Drawing on aspects of both docu-drama and fairy-tale, Dominique Lapierre’s epic story of man-made disaster in India, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal, delivers its horrific account with a frank and brave intimacy. The hulking pesticide factory had been built by American multinational Union Carbide near the ancient and beautiful city of Bhopal, to take advantage of the huge untapped potential of the Indian agricultural market.

"As inoffensive as a chocolate factory" according to one American executive, this is however, no Roald Dahl tale, despite its grim twists. Instead, it’s a chemical catastrophe of devastating proportions, as a combination of slack safety, complacency and human error led to the release of deadly toxic clouds of methyl oxide that resulted in perhaps as many as 30 thousand deaths in 1984. And inevitably, when the wind blows, it does so against the poor and deprived, as it did here, with the majority of the deaths occurring in the shantytown settlements that bordered the industrial leviathan. In retrospect, a time bomb waiting to happen, the repercussions are still being felt in the lungs, eyes, cancers and deformities of those unfortunate enough to come into contact with its fallout.

Lapierre, a writer, journalist and lecturer who donates his fees to fund humanitarian work in India, chooses to construct his kaleidoscopic narrative through the threads of local lives, both prior to and after the disaster, such as the young couple Padmini and Dilip, whose wedding was interrupted by the tragedy. Colourfully translated from the French, yet retaining much of its idiomatic structures, Lapierre, the author of City of Joy, is shrewd to focus on the people, both employees, residents and bosses, as this was indubitably a very human tragedy, in all its sociological, scientific and commercial implications. Not, perhaps, a great work of literature, but scrupulously researched, engagingly accessible and a commendable pinpointing of the lives that surround and succeed an international news story. Lapierre concludes with perhaps the first moment of unguarded polemic, when a Monsanto salesman comes calling with genetically modified seeds. In the wake of such terrible affliction, Western commercial imperialism seems a ubiquitous grim reaper indeed. --David Vincent

Review

A beautifully written, humane account of the horrific Bhopal chemical accident - the most murderous industrial accident in history - from the bestselling author of City of Joy.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story that cried out to be told. 27 May 2002
Format:Hardcover
Dominique Lapiere and Xavier Moro follow in the tradition of Dominique's "City of Joy" with this skilful telling a story which was in great danger of being simply forgotten. The Bhopal gas tragedy and its aftermath are the greatest ever scandal of the corporate world: a chronicle of staggering negligence crowned by a giant American corporation's utter indifference for the suffering of its victims. Dominique and Xavier show how Union Carbide ignored advice not to build a pesticides plant handling deadly poisons in the middle of a densely populated city, how its sales miscalculations and subsequent attempts to force its Indian subsidiary to cut costs led directly to the tragedy in which tens of thousands died in the most horrifying circumstances. The book brings to life for us the bastees (slum neighbourhoods) of Bhopal near which the factory was built, their vibrant life and many of their characters: Gangaram the leper, Pulpul Singh the moneylender, little Padmini the tribal girl from Orissa whose wedding took place on what was to become known as "The Night of Gas" or simply "That Night". We are also introduced to the people who built and ran the deadly pesticides plant, and are helped to understand the complex sequence of decisions and blunders which led year by year, week by week and finally, minute by minute, toward catastrophe. As a result we feel the full horror of what happened at midnight on 2 December 1984, as cocktails of deadly gases began drifting in clouds through the densely populated city lanes, killing some ten to twenty thousand immediately (many of them with eyes and mouths on fire, drowning terrified in their own body fluids), leaving behind more than half a million injured. Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly engaging and fascinating book 7 Jun 2002
Format:Hardcover
The Union Carbide disaster was truly a grave tragedy of the modern industrialised world. Lapierre presents the events which lead up the disaster of 3rd December 1984 with in-depth detail. His description of the chemical processes, the reasoning behind where the factory was located and the political wrangling which went on before and after the factory was established gives the reader a broad insight in to events leading up to the disaster.
Lapierre describes in vivid detail both how Carbide, as a company, insisted on high standards, yet failed to carry through their own doctrines on safety and let the factory in Bhopal fall apart. Lapierre continues to revealing Carbide's own problems with their factory in Charleston, Carolina where similar smaller scale leaks caused human damage and death. The pictures contained in the book are in places shocking and reveal the true extent to human suffering caused by the deadly gases expelled from the factory in Bhopal.
What really lifts this book up is the description of the villagers from the various "bustee's" around the factory sight. You really begin to know each one of the characters and at times the pivotal roles they played amongst the villages.
A tragic reality which the book reveals is how the west exploit, even today, the developing countries and use them as testing grounds for some of the most destructive and dangerous substances known to man. Even after the Carbide disaster, almost immediately afterwards, the next pesticide marketing campaign kicked off showing that the cost of human life in India is often regarded as negligible by so many foreign investors and firms.
I have found some of Lapierre's previous works rather repetitive but I must hand it to him with this book. He has written a magnificent account of events in the Bhopal disaster and I would highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in what is one of the worst chemical disasters the world has ever seen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Corporate Accountability - Profit at any cost 21 Jun 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It is commonplace to describe the Bhopal disaster as a tragedy. It is less usual to call it a crime. But, as the authors of Five Past Midnight in Bhophal establish beyond reasonable doubt, a US conglomerate called Union Carbide, in a conspiracy of greed and neglect, caused the death in agony of up to 30,000 people in the space of a few hours and the maiming of scores of thousands more, many of whom still suffer dreadfully but who survive now without hope of redress. Indeed, no one has yet been called to account for a horror that - in 1984 - momentarily shocked the world. The bare facts of what happened are straightforward, though the lessons are of transcending significance. In 1980, Union Carbide, under licence from the Indian Government, opened a chemical plant in Bhopal to produce a novel insecticide, Sevin, which they promised would open a new era of progress for India's poverty-stricken farmers. Unhappily - though Union Carbide was at pains to conceal the fact - Sevin contained a volatile chemical, methyl isocyanate, which was lethal to humans. Against the persistent advice of its most qualified engineer, Union Carbide insisted on placing the fertiliser plant in the crowded heart of the poorest part of a poor city in one of India's poorest states, Madra Pradesh. But far from asking what might happen if something went wrong, Bhopal rejoiced at the arrival of a saviour in the form of this great American company: the plant would mean jobs and unimaginable prosperity. "To work for Carbide," one Indian employee said later, "was to belong to a caste apart. We were known as the "lords'." But there weren't many jobs and they didn't last long. By 1983, a drought meant that India's peasant farmers could not afford to buy the new insecticide. Demand for Sevin crashed. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grisly Nonfiction Novel 22 Aug 2002
By Brian D. Rubendall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Five Past Midnight in Bhopal" documents the story of the famous disaster at the Union Carbide plant in India that killed between 16,000 and 30,000 people. The reason the death toll is so variable is because most of the victims were among the very poorest in a country that has a staggering numbers of such people. Whole familes were killed, leaving nobody behind to report their deaths. Authors Dominic Lapierre and Javier Moro recount the disaster by using the technique of the non-fiction novel rather than reporting the events in a straight narrative. There are no notes and no bibliography, just a 400 page narrative of the story from the inception of the plans to build the Union Carbide plant to the aftermath of the tragedy.
The authors build the story through interviews with the workers at the plant, survivors from the city and several Union Carbide employees. The tale that emerges is one of an unfortunately preventable disaster that occurred because of misguided corporate decisions, the faultiest of which was probably the decision to build and run such a technologically complex and potentially dangerous facility in a third world country in the first place. Union Carbide also suffered from a misreading of the Indian marketplace and ultimately from a horribly misguided cost cutting plan that decimated safety proceedures at the plant and directly led to the disaster.
Lapierre and Moro are excellent writers whose prose is compellingly readable, though a bit overly dramatic at times. The style of the book is likely to put off some readers, who may be expecting more straightforward reporting. I should also note that the book concludes with an appeal for donations to help the poverty stricken in India, further illustrating that it is not a work of journalism. Nevertheless, this is an important story that deserves to retold as a cautionary note to both big business and to governments.
Overall, a gruesome story of man made disaster that most readers will likely find both moving and enraging.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So We Never Forget 3 Mar 2003
By "mobby_uk" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Rarely I start a book and can not put it down until the very last page. Being a avid reader of various topics for many years, Five Past Midnight at Bhopal was one such book, that made me stay till two in the morning, unable to put it down.
I faintly remember the incident at Bhopal, having been fairly young at the time to take in all the details, or appreciate the human tragedy that has occured, so I did not hesitate to buy this book as soon as it was published, being previously unfamilair with the works of Lapierre and Moro.
What makes this book so powerful is its unflinching humanity. Some of the thousands of victims that died that night, suddenly were alive with a history, and the authors with obvious sympathy, transform wretched, destitute, outcast people into heroes..their lives, joys, aspirations, optimism in the face of impossible odds is a wonderful triumph of the human spirit, regardless of how many gods it worships.
The moment when one of these people gets the first TV set, to the amazement of all the slum dwellers, is very touching and powerful..When the wedding preparations are made, and the joy of the parents borrowing money from a usurer to make it the most beautiful day of their daughter's life, is full of dignity..In short, the authors succeed on one level, to pay hommage to people that are forgotten in their own country and certainly in the world.
Yet the whole book is about the tragedy of the factory, and although I believe that the incident was partly caused by the cost cutting of Union Carbide,partly because of the inefficiency, and lack of training of the employees..(I did not join the authors in their apparent anti globalization undertones), the effect and devastation was mind boggling.
Yet why this book works beautifully, is simply because the authors have presented us with the lives of many characters, and when the tragedy strikes, we care enough about these people to turn every page in anticipation to know their fate.
It also reads like a thriller, escalating tension up until the fateful moment..
I did not finish the book accusing anyone, it is a tragic accident, rather I had a great feeling about how great the human spirit can be, the notion of selfless sacrifice coming alive.
If anything, I think the proceeds of this book will help some of the victims, which will make it an essential buy.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why did it happen: GREED! 17 Dec 2004
By Vijay K. Gurbani - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World's Deadliest Industrial Disaster, Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro - The gas leak in Bhopal in the winter of 1984 claimed 3,787 lives. That's the official count; unofficial estimates range from 20,000 dead and half a million suffering from the after-effects of inhaling a noxious gas. Why did the tragedy happen? Simple: greed. Union Carbide, in a zeal to supply more pesticide than could be used in the subcontinent, built a plant to produce the pesticide locally. When the Indian droughts and distribution problems conspired to reduce their revenues, UC did what any western corporation does with pride: reduce costs. In this case, costs were reduced by allowing the safety systems of the plant to atrophy. The air-conditioner which should have maintained a regulating temprature was shut down; the flare which would normally have burned off the excess gas was extinguished; the pipes which would have shunted the execss gas to other tanks were left to rust; the employees who should be monitoring the saftey functions of the plant were let go. After all, UC thought, a plant that was not producing any pesticide could not turn into an environment disaster. They were wrong.

Due to a series of unfortunate occurences, gas pressure built up in the tanks causing it to escape, with deadly results. Since UC had not seen fit to provide information on the composition of the gas (Methyl isocynate, or MIC) to the local government, no effective antidote could be used by the hospitals when affected people started to arrive. By the morning of December 3, 1984, thousands were dead.

The name Bhopal is synonymous with the disaster that occurred there 20 years ago. To this date, no criminal proceedings have been held to hold UC responsible (UC was bought out by Dow Chemicals in 2000, and no longer exists as an independent company; Dow absolves all responsibility of the disaster). UC settled with the Indian government on a sum of US $470 million. After 20 years, about US $300 million are still with the Indian government awaiting disbursements to people who are no longer alive, or even if they are alive, are dying a slow and painful death. The Indian government, maybe out of inertia, or maybe out of the mistaken belief that future multi-nationals may not invest in India if UC is charged with criminal neglect, has not done anything to prosecute UC. UC, for its part, blames the accident on a disgruntled employee! The CEO of UC, Warren Anderson, lives in anonymity in the US; he is a wanted person in India. Thousands of lives have been lost and millions affected, all brushed aside by a UC statement that distills these enormous losses to a "per share loss of 0.43 cents!"

This is a great book, written in the same style that Dominique Lapierre uses for "Freedom At Midnight". 2/3 of the book is devoted to glimpses in the lives of the people who were the hardest hit by the gas leak; the remaining 1/3 is devoted to the actual leak. This book should be a must read for all multi-nationals that espouse to exploit the cheap third world labor market. It is a telling fact that when smaller amounts of gas leaks in UC plants occurred in the US, one of the affected women went to college to get a degree in environment issues and armed with it, battled UC in the courts (and prevailed). The affected people in Bhopal did not have such a chance, nor can they even comprehend this as a way of battling corporations. India has a long way to go before it considers itself a first world country. For more information, see Union Carbide's official site on the Bhopal Disaster ([...] and a non- government organization site ([...] which to me is far more believable than UC's site.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and descript 7 Jun 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Union Carbide disaster was truly a grave tragedy of the modern industrialised world. Lapierre presents the events which lead up the disaster of 3rd December 1984 with in-depth detail. His description of the chemical processes, the reasoning behind where the factory was located and the political wrangling which went on before and after the factory was established gives the reader a broad insight in to events leading up to the disaster.
Lapierre describes in vivid detail both how Carbide, as a company, insisted on high standards, yet failed to carry through their own doctrines on safety and let the factory in Bhopal fall apart. Lapierre continues to revealing Carbide's own problems with their factory in Charleston, Carolina where similar smaller scale leaks caused human damage and death. The pictures contained in the book are in places shocking and reveal the true extent to human suffering caused by the deadly gases expelled from the factory in Bhopal.
What really lifts this book up is the description of the villagers from the various "bustee's" around the factory sight. You really begin to know each one of the characters and at times the pivotal roles they played amongst the villages.
A tragic reality which the book reveals is how the west exploit, even today, the developing countries and use them as testing grounds for some of the most destructive and dangerous substances known to man. Even after the Carbide disaster, almost immediately afterwards, the next pesticide marketing campaign kicked off showing that the cost of human life in India is often regarded as negligible by so many foreign investors and firms.
I have found some of Lapierre's previous works rather repetitive but I must hand it to him with this book. He has written a magnificent account of events in the Bhopal disaster and I would highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in what is one of the worst chemical disasters the world has ever seen.
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed. 4 May 2014
By John R. Kennedy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book had some pages torn out. It was not complete. I they were from the front of the book and I do not think I missed anything, but still I did expect to get a complete in tact book when I made my purchase.
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