A provocative and increasingly chilling work that shows how scientists in the nascent Soviet Union were sacrificed to the...




Picking through a minefield of Soviet utopia and paranoia.

All sciences would coalesce into one, and this science would usher the new socialist being—so believed the Soviet state in its promulgation and censoring of brilliant Russian scientists from the establishment of the Bolshevik order onward. British novelist and science writer Ings (A Natural History of Seeing: The Art and Science of Vision, 2008, etc.) builds from the utopian vision of lofty scientism advocated by Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov in 1904 to the surviving crop of nervous scientists under Stalin, who were busy trying to make thermonuclear weapons in the late 1940s. The first hurdle for true scientists—e.g., the mineralogist and geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky—was the crippling material conditions in Russia, a situation caused largely by successive famines in the early 1920s and the rampant backbiting in the Academy of Sciences and other official agencies that effectively monitored and restricted intellectuals. The new order was in a hurry to bring on a “revolutionary generation,” and above all, the Bolsheviks needed engineers, removing specialists from universities and ensconcing them in well-appointed institutes that became hives of bureaucratic and competitive disgruntlement. After Lenin died, Stalin moved to industrialize the country by fiat and quickly “rattle through the stages by which true communism might be achieved.” Ings moves somewhat unevenly through these stages of increased authoritarianism, beginning with Stalin’s Great Purge, which sacrificed many brilliant scientists and intellectuals such as Nikolai Vavilov, an internationally revered botanist whose fall was startling (“We shall go to the pyre,” he predicted). “Pure science” did not exist, and many scientists were galvanized in Stalin’s “Plan for the Great Transformation of Nature,” a grand deforestation and dam-building project to make even the natural world yield to the plan.

A provocative and increasingly chilling work that shows how scientists in the nascent Soviet Union were sacrificed to the Soviet dream of building the ideal state.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2598-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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