Rising to unusual heights for a Soviet Jew, Azbel, at 32, was teaching physics at the Physical-Technical Institute in Moscow; he was soon to become an associate of such giants of physics as Landau and Kapitsa, and even to garner a nomination for a Lenin Prize (which he didn't get). But this bright career was clouded in the Sixties by his friendship with the soon-to-be-jailed writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky, then officially snuffed out, to all intents and purposes, by his decision to apply for an exit visa to Israel. All of Azbel's previous Russian life is described in this shapeless, voluminous work; but the lamp is trained most hotly on his five years (1971-76) as a refusenik--a Jew who wants to go, and isn't allowed to. The vignettes are revealing, often sharp: Jews seeking visa information in Moscow, for instance, had to go to a building on Bogdan Chmielnitsky St. (named for the leader of the largest pogrom of Jews in history before Hitler). There are also continuing strands. How the KGB swarmed over the dissident Jewish scientists (their high status, coupled with their wish to depart, was a mortification to the government) and yet how Azbel, Brailovsky, Fain, Levitch--and the non-Jewish but steadfast Sakharov--organized The Seminar: a series of lectures in private apartments where de-frocked academicians and eminent foreign scientists met to exchange ideas (and nettle the Kremlin something fierce in the doing). How the American press correspondents were used--nay, played like a piano-as instruments of dissemination of the refuseniks' plight. Perhaps most interesting is Azbel's first-hand knowledge and explanation of the politics of Soviet science--but this vein of ore is often deeply buried in a sprawling book that wearies the reader before it succeeds in pinching up the desired outrage. For the selective and sympathetic, however, a solid, authentic source-work.