Stalin and the Scientists
- A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953
- Narrated by: Tim Bruce
- Length: 15 hrs and 27 mins
- Unabridged Audiobook
- Release date: 02-21-17
- Language: English
- Publisher: Recorded Books
Regular price: $31.49
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Scientists throughout history, from Galileo to today's experts on climate change, have often had to contend with politics in their pursuit of knowledge. But in the Soviet Union, where the ruling elites embraced, patronized, and even fetishized science like never before, scientists lived their lives on a knife edge. The Soviet Union had the best-funded scientific establishment in history. Scientists were elevated as popular heroes and lavished with awards and privileges. But if their ideas or their field of study lost favor with the elites, they could be exiled, imprisoned, or murdered. And yet they persisted, making major contributions to 20th century science.
Stalin and the Scientists tells the story of the many gifted scientists who worked in Russia from the years leading up to the Revolution through the death of the "Great Scientist" himself, Joseph Stalin. It weaves together the stories of scientists, politicians, and ideologues into an intimate and sometimes horrifying portrait of a state determined to remake the world. They often wreaked great harm. Stalin was himself an amateur botanist, and by falling under the sway of dangerous charlatans like Trofim Lysenko (who denied the existence of genes), and by relying on antiquated ideas of biology, he not only destroyed the lives of hundreds of brilliant scientists, he caused the death of millions through famine.
But from atomic physics to management theory, and from radiation biology to neuroscience and psychology, these Soviet experts also made breakthroughs that forever changed agriculture, education, and medicine. A masterful book that deepens our understanding of Russian history, Stalin and the Scientists is a great achievement of research and storytelling, and a gripping look at what happens when science falls prey to politics.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Donald Hill on 11-21-17
Never Judge and Book by its cover!
You have heard it said many time before, "never judge a book by its cover". When selecting this book, that is exactly what I did. I have been very interested in subjects such as the Cold War.
I have always been interested in learning as much as I can about the the development of nuclear research and the building of atomic weapons. I have also been very interested in the the developments both the US and the Soviet Union space programs. Well, this is NOT that book. There is an honorable mention with regard to Stalin's scientists with regard to the two topics mentioned above, but not much at all.
Simon Ings managed to write a book that covered Soviet genetics, more than anything. He describes how Trofim Lysenko completely denied fact, such as the existence of genes. Lysenko was a complete crackpot when it comes to genetics. This turned out to be a dangerous situation because millions starved in the Soviet Union due to crop failures based on Lysenko's belief that he somehow created better crops that could withstand some of the worst weather.
Ings explains when Stalin and Khrushchev loved what Lysenko's work was all about. The fact that there is nothing genetic about plants, they just need a good environment. That really supports the communist platform. Ings covers Pavlov and his experiments in great detail about social behavior.
Pure and simple. Even though the book has a lot of details, if you have little interest in genetics and biology, don't buy the book because it may put you to sleep. The book is mostly about the many missteps maid by these scientists during the Stalin era.
But somehow, the author sort of pays these scientists a backhanded complement by stating in the end of the book: "There was, I believe, something piteously unavoidable, something admirably human, about the way the Soviet Union faced a world of scarcity and poverty, and tried to light up its land with the fitful glow of science. For all the terrors, follies and crimes of that time, I believe this has also been a story of courage, imagination and even genius". Huh!
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
By George Reid on 07-31-17
It ain't necessarily so
In the 1950's I was told that forced collectivist ion of farming in the Soviet Union caused all of the crop failures and subsequent famines. This book makes clear it was far more the destruction of modern biological science esp. genetics that brought this about. The entire sad story encompasses far more than crop science. It is well told and well documented.
One area of particular interest to me was the role of Marxism (thru esp. Stalin's interpretation) in driving science toward a Lamarkian interpretation of evolution that left no room for any fixed elements, i.e. genes, to account for inheritance. It is a terrible lesson of the damage that a self appointed philosopher dictator can do to people.