The war on science is an old story. Pringle lends it specific weight with this chilling story of a man who, had he survived,...

THE MURDER OF NIKOLAI VAVILOV

THE STORY OF STALIN’S PERSECUTION OF ONE OF THE GREAT SCIENTISTS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

A tragic story of the totalitarian suppression of knowledge—one that is all too familiar to history, even in our own time.

Pringle (Day of the Dandelion, 2007, etc.), former Moscow bureau chief for The Independent, recounts that in that city he lived on a street named for Lenin’s otherwise little-known brother. Down the way, on a grid named as a kind of “Who’s Who of the old USSR and its socialist allies, even Ho Chi Minh,” was Vavilov Street, named after the great physicist Sergei Vavilov, whose admitted brilliance was nothing compared to that of his brother Nikolai. A kind of Indiana Jones of the plant world, Nikolai was always tearing off in search of rare einkorn or interesting hybrids. Pringle records a meeting of Vavilov and American botanist Luther Burbank, with the former concluding that “it was difficult to learn anything from Burbank—‘the artist’s intuition overwhelmed his research.’ ” When the Bolsheviks came to power, Lenin, though despising the intelligentsia, recognized their at least temporary usefulness as technocrats in the new state, and Vavilov was allowed to continue his research in plant genetics and agronomy. Stalin was less kindly disposed toward the knowledge-working class, and he gave pride of place in the new Soviet science to the quack Trofim Lysenko, who dismissed Mendelian genetics in favor of a particularly ungainly kind of Lamarckism. Vavilov generously insisted that his scientific colleagues hear Lysenko out, even though “there was no proof of the inheritance of acquired characteristics,” as Lysenko insisted. Lysenko won out with his theories of vernalization; the result was a killing famine, one of several the Soviet Union endured. For his part, increasingly marginalized in a politicized scientific community, Vavilov wound up in the Gulag.

The war on science is an old story. Pringle lends it specific weight with this chilling story of a man who, had he survived, might have saved millions of lives.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7432-6498-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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