Stalin and the Scientists tells the story of the many gifted scientists who worked in Russia from the years leading up to the Revolution through the death of the 'Great Scientist' himself, Joseph Stalin. It weaves together the stories of scientists, politicians, and ideologues into an intimate and sometimes horrifying portrait of a state determined to remake the world.
The heart of the book is the story of the Great Terror that struck the scientific establishment in the 1930s. Ings shows that scientists now depended for resources and promotion (but also for physical survival) on the power of patrons such as top leaders like Andrei Zhdanov, or the greatest patron of all, Stalin. He describes the rise of the maliciously cunning but childlike Trofim Lysenko, who notoriously became Stalin’s favorite scientist ... Ings capably recounts how Soviet science became a laughingstock and often a human tragedy, but he doesn’t explain how Stalinist technology produced colossal successes, too ... Over all, however, Ings is an entertaining storyteller who often captures the essence of things — Stalin was indeed 'the last in a long line of European philosopher kings.' Filled with priceless nuggets and a cast of frauds, crackpots and tyrants, this is a lively and interesting book, and utterly relevant today when the Trump administration is challenging the scientific establishment on climate change.
Ings underscores the brutal human cost that accompanied scientific advancement in the Soviet Union in the early 20th century. And yet, the author shows that despite the oppressive conditions, Soviet science did manage to produce some achievements ... Ings’s finely crafted and informative book is a must read for understanding how the ideas of scientific knowledge and technology were distorted and subverted for decades across the Soviet Union, all in the service of the most ambitious experiment in social engineering the world has ever witnessed.
Ings conveys the tragedy and the triumph of science in the Soviet Union, though the tragedy outweighs the triumph in his account. A different choice, with more emphasis on physics and mathematics, would have tilted the balance more toward triumph. Ings is interested in people, their characters, choices and the positions they found themselves in, and he succeeds in bringing out their personalities. This is a fascinating story of brilliant scientists and charlatans, of visionaries and careerists, of civic courage and moral cowardice ... The picture he paints contrasts starkly with the hopes espoused by the Bolsheviks. Is the Soviet experience to be treated as something exotic, not relevant to us? What does it tell us generally about science and society? Ings makes a few brief comments on this, but does not draw any systematic conclusion.