FIVE BILLION VODKA BOTTLES TO THE MOON by Iosif Shklovsky

FIVE BILLION VODKA BOTTLES TO THE MOON

Tales of a Soviet Scientist

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Lighthearted, Feynman-style recollections of a Soviet astronomer (co-author with Carl Sagan of Intelligent Life in the Universe), first published as a mid-1980's samizdat publication in the USSR. The impression Shklovsky (1916-85) left with most Americans he encountered on his infrequent visits from the Soviet Union was one not only of scientific brilliance but of a sharp wit, shocking outspokenness, and unusual likability. These qualities shine forth in these memoirs of a self-described fortunate fellow--born into a poor Ukrainian Jewish household--who rose, after many rejections, to a seat in the Soviet Academy and a major role in that nation's space program. Shrewd and amusing observations of Soviet scientific life include a portrait of the young Sakharov as a painfully introverted mama's boy (the two scientists remained friends for life); the habit one Soviet mathematician maintained, for the continued success of his career, of expressing encoded thanks for Stalin's death into all his work; the contagious joy Shklovsky experienced on the few occasions he was allowed abroad: to Brazil, where he attempted to record a solar eclipse; to Paris, where he nearly starved on a Soviet allowance; to New York, where he watched, entranced, the televised transmission of the Apollo 8 mission; to San Francisco, where he was entertained by Edward Teller; and to Albuquerque, where, over Mexican food, he discussed the possibility of extraterrestrial life with astrophysicist Phil Morrison, one of the instigators of SETI. Bitter reminders of Soviet anti-Semitism and the arrests Shklovsky witnessed in his long career add bite to his generally sunny and shrewd anecdotes. His death in 1984, before the current Soviet thaw, makes this collection particularly poignant. A joyful, inspiring and often provocative gesture of fellowship from the other side of the wall.

Pub Date: June 24th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-02990-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1991