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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!
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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.