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Sakharov: A Biography

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“As a thinker, as a man of uncanny judgment and courage, [Andrei Sakharov] was the one figure in the drama of the Soviet collapse who was the equal of Jefferson, Adams, and the rest,” wrote David Remnick in The New Yorker. One of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century—the “father of the Soviet H-bomb”—Sakharov won even greater renown later in life as the leading “As a thinker, as a man of uncanny judgment and courage, [Andrei Sakharov] was the one figure in the drama of the Soviet collapse who was the equal of Jefferson, Adams, and the rest,” wrote David Remnick in The New Yorker. One of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century—the “father of the Soviet H-bomb”—Sakharov won even greater renown later in life as the leading dissident in the Soviet Union. His courageous and untiring activities in defense of human rights won him the Nobel Peace Prize, six years of exile in the closed city of Gorky, and finally, official restitution as a symbol of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Richard Lourie, who translated Sakharov’s memoirs, has now written the first full biography of this towering figure of the last century. Drawing on a wide range of sources—including previously secret KGB files, as well as Sakharov’s own correspondence—Lourie tells the story of a life intimately bound up with Soviet history. With the H-bomb, Sakharov made the Soviet Union a superpower; with his courage and moral conviction, he made it accountable to the world for its treatment of its citizens. His untimely death in December 1989 cut short a budding career as a politician, for at the end of his life, Sakharov had been elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies and was engaged in a campaign to reform the Soviet constitution. As a scientist, Sakharov not only helped change the world through the creation of thermonuclear weapons, he also engaged in theoretical research whose ultimate significance is yet to be determined. As a Russian, he has been ranked by his own people with Lenin and Stalin in terms of his influence on the country. As a human being, he set a standard for principled dissent and compassion acknowledged the world over. This intelligent, detailed biography does justice to all aspects of his multi-faceted achievements.


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“As a thinker, as a man of uncanny judgment and courage, [Andrei Sakharov] was the one figure in the drama of the Soviet collapse who was the equal of Jefferson, Adams, and the rest,” wrote David Remnick in The New Yorker. One of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century—the “father of the Soviet H-bomb”—Sakharov won even greater renown later in life as the leading “As a thinker, as a man of uncanny judgment and courage, [Andrei Sakharov] was the one figure in the drama of the Soviet collapse who was the equal of Jefferson, Adams, and the rest,” wrote David Remnick in The New Yorker. One of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century—the “father of the Soviet H-bomb”—Sakharov won even greater renown later in life as the leading dissident in the Soviet Union. His courageous and untiring activities in defense of human rights won him the Nobel Peace Prize, six years of exile in the closed city of Gorky, and finally, official restitution as a symbol of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Richard Lourie, who translated Sakharov’s memoirs, has now written the first full biography of this towering figure of the last century. Drawing on a wide range of sources—including previously secret KGB files, as well as Sakharov’s own correspondence—Lourie tells the story of a life intimately bound up with Soviet history. With the H-bomb, Sakharov made the Soviet Union a superpower; with his courage and moral conviction, he made it accountable to the world for its treatment of its citizens. His untimely death in December 1989 cut short a budding career as a politician, for at the end of his life, Sakharov had been elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies and was engaged in a campaign to reform the Soviet constitution. As a scientist, Sakharov not only helped change the world through the creation of thermonuclear weapons, he also engaged in theoretical research whose ultimate significance is yet to be determined. As a Russian, he has been ranked by his own people with Lenin and Stalin in terms of his influence on the country. As a human being, he set a standard for principled dissent and compassion acknowledged the world over. This intelligent, detailed biography does justice to all aspects of his multi-faceted achievements.

30 review for Sakharov: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Neal Alexander

    There aren’t many genuinely heroic scientists: even Galileo abjured heliocentrism under threat of torture. Sakharov was one of the most prestigious scientists in the Soviet Union thanks to his work on its atomic weapons, but he suffered the consequences of speaking out frankly against injustice. At the 1964 congress of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, he denounced Lysenko, something which had cost many others their lives. That’s when the KGB started a file on him. Later in the 1960s he publicly c There aren’t many genuinely heroic scientists: even Galileo abjured heliocentrism under threat of torture. Sakharov was one of the most prestigious scientists in the Soviet Union thanks to his work on its atomic weapons, but he suffered the consequences of speaking out frankly against injustice. At the 1964 congress of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, he denounced Lysenko, something which had cost many others their lives. That’s when the KGB started a file on him. Later in the 1960s he publicly criticized the development of anti-ballistic missiles, and in 1970 was a founder of the Human Rights Committee in the Soviet Union. He was arrested in 1980 and exiled internally. The book conveys the grim reality of what it means to be force-fed when on hunger strike. Sakharov was released by Gorbachev and participated in those tumultuous years before his death in 1989. Unfortunately this book patronises Sakharov’s compatriots and is occasionally misogynist: repeating WWII rape jokes, and describing how the 1991 coup against Gorbachev was foiled with the help of "patriot sluts of Moscow lowering themselves into the tanks to distract the boys".

  2. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Crofut

    I grabbed this from a library discard pile, but the reason I picked this one up among the hundred or so there is my growing interest in Soviet dissidents. Reading the cover flap and a quick Internet search, I figured it was worth the time to read a medium size biography on Andrei Sakharov. I wouldn't turn someone away from this book, but I think I would rather have read the man's memoirs (the one not confiscated by the KGB). Sakharov has two main claims to fame: the inventor of the Soviet H-Bomb I grabbed this from a library discard pile, but the reason I picked this one up among the hundred or so there is my growing interest in Soviet dissidents. Reading the cover flap and a quick Internet search, I figured it was worth the time to read a medium size biography on Andrei Sakharov. I wouldn't turn someone away from this book, but I think I would rather have read the man's memoirs (the one not confiscated by the KGB). Sakharov has two main claims to fame: the inventor of the Soviet H-Bomb and as a dissident. This book is very thin on the former, which is a bit of a disappointment. Based on this, I'm really quite puzzled why he deserves that title. The biographer also skips over some apparently important points, such as why Grisha Umansky is so important. The transformation from a shy intellectual to a constant thorn in the side of the KGB was much more interesting. Really, this would have been much better if it just dropped the first 50 years of Sakharov's life, gave a ten page introduction to the man, and then became a study in the various dissidents who flit in and out of the book. I would love to have seen a detailed comparison of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, who knew each other and had a different view of the world. This difference comes into and out of the picture too quickly to really make too much of it, as do a number of the dissidents (that said, if you do pick this up, keep a notecard of who those people are; they might be worth looking into). Overall, I give it 3 of 5 stars. I wouldn't talk someone out of it (or any book highlighting the horrors of the "workers republic"), and I learned some from it, but I think there might be better works out there.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jane Barber

    Ed: William R. Hively. Biography. Was much moved. Heroic actions from scientist. Quiet activism, he later was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. From Amazon: "Seemingly shy, Andrei Sakharov was in fact a man of three great passions. His passion for physics ultimately lead him to create the Soviet H-Bomb, making the USSR a super power. But he rejected all the position and prestige his inventions had brought him in the name of a greater passion — for justice. And yielding nothing to these two passions Ed: William R. Hively. Biography. Was much moved. Heroic actions from scientist. Quiet activism, he later was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. From Amazon: "Seemingly shy, Andrei Sakharov was in fact a man of three great passions. His passion for physics ultimately lead him to create the Soviet H-Bomb, making the USSR a super power. But he rejected all the position and prestige his inventions had brought him in the name of a greater passion — for justice. And yielding nothing to these two passions was his passion for human rights activist Elena Bonner, their love story one of the great romances of our time."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rogier

    It is very funny to be sitting here in an appartment in New York, in 2008 reading this book, and to see the courage it took for Sakharov to stand up and speak his conscience, in a very repressive ideological system, when all around me in this country the same is going on with amongst other things the ideological push for creationism, and the near impossibility to teach evolution in schools. Sakharov's arguments that such ideological repression threatened progress in the Soviet Union are all too It is very funny to be sitting here in an appartment in New York, in 2008 reading this book, and to see the courage it took for Sakharov to stand up and speak his conscience, in a very repressive ideological system, when all around me in this country the same is going on with amongst other things the ideological push for creationism, and the near impossibility to teach evolution in schools. Sakharov's arguments that such ideological repression threatened progress in the Soviet Union are all too directly applicable here today. There would be many other examples, including such absurdities as teaching abstinence in lieu of using condoms to prevent the spread of VD. It is really hard to believe that this goes on in a "free" society. And it is humbling to see the fight that Sakharov pursued, when at some level it seems so evidently pointless. The way he stood up for the stopping of the insanity of nuclear testing is equally very impressive. I felt very deeply connected to that, for at age 12 I wrote an essay for a high school admission contest on nuclear genetics, for which I was then awarded a book by Prof. Carl-Friedrich von Weizsäcker, on the dangers of atmospheric nuclear explosions. And though evidently his path of conscience was different than Sakharov's it remains an interesting parallel, that so many of the early developers on nuclear technology ended up becoming such powerful advocates against it, though meanwhile the damage had been done. And both Sakharov and von Weizsäcker worked on the bomb for totalitarian regimes, and evidently at some point came to the realization that it's power was too devastating, and became advocates against these weapons. On a political level, this book makes good reading for understanding a little better just how the Soviet Union really worked, and the absurdities of life there. Just how much the state did not know what to make of Sakharov borders on the comical from time to time. So the book can pre appreciated in a great many different ways.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gini

    I didn't know anything about Andrei Sakharov, other than the vague sense I'd seen his name in the newspaper once, until I read David Remnick's The Last Days of the Soviet Union. In it, he described the creator of Russia H-Bomb as a saint. Richard Lourie's 2002 Biography Sakharov, a physist-turned-dissident who couldn't be silenced even through exile, enriched this profile, and Sakharov comes across -- without idolatry or hero worship -- as a kind of Christ figure-- gentle and quiet yet forceful I didn't know anything about Andrei Sakharov, other than the vague sense I'd seen his name in the newspaper once, until I read David Remnick's The Last Days of the Soviet Union. In it, he described the creator of Russia H-Bomb as a saint. Richard Lourie's 2002 Biography Sakharov, a physist-turned-dissident who couldn't be silenced even through exile, enriched this profile, and Sakharov comes across -- without idolatry or hero worship -- as a kind of Christ figure-- gentle and quiet yet forceful and eloquent whether confronting the KGB or Communist Party leaders. I couldn't even check out this book from the New York Public Library; according to the online catalog there was only one copy, which one had to read on location. I bought my hardcover copy used for a $1.98 on amazon. Sadly, Sakharov is probably remembered mainly by Russians, and some western historians; of course he is a man, not Christ but his life is secularly as inspiring and worth emulating as any saint.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Riley

    Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov isn't a figure you hear much about nowadays, but he was a towering moral voice in the 1970s and 80s. This book, like all good biographies, relates not only Sakharov's life but a history of the times he lived in. It is humbling to read about Sakharov's transformation from establishment nuclear scientist to principled defender of human freedoms. Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov isn't a figure you hear much about nowadays, but he was a towering moral voice in the 1970s and 80s. This book, like all good biographies, relates not only Sakharov's life but a history of the times he lived in. It is humbling to read about Sakharov's transformation from establishment nuclear scientist to principled defender of human freedoms.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is a well written biography of Sakharov, voted by the Russians as the 3rd most significant person of the 20th century (after Lenin and Stalin). They built the Soviet Union; he helped tear it apart. He's a fascinating figure - a great scientist who became a politician and symbol of change and conscience in the USSR. This is a well written biography of Sakharov, voted by the Russians as the 3rd most significant person of the 20th century (after Lenin and Stalin). They built the Soviet Union; he helped tear it apart. He's a fascinating figure - a great scientist who became a politician and symbol of change and conscience in the USSR.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Brannon

    Well written authoritative account of one the three most influential men in 20th Century Russian History.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brad Piatt

  10. 4 out of 5

    grs

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gavril

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pat Kellogg

  13. 4 out of 5

    Burton R. Ross

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Rubenstein

  15. 4 out of 5

    Philip

  16. 4 out of 5

    Richard PH

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lev Reyzin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Wingert

  19. 5 out of 5

    Greg

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark Schrad

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joydip

  24. 4 out of 5

    Deaundra R

  25. 5 out of 5

    John BaRoss

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paracelsus

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  28. 5 out of 5

    Trent

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sheldon Ciment

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