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Sakharov: A Biography Hardcover – January 1, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Brandeis; 1st edition (January 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1584652071
  • ISBN-13: 978-1584652076
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This first biography of the renowned physicist, Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner weaves the details of Sakharov's life together with the history of the Soviet Union, which barely outlasted him. Lourie (Autobiography of Joseph Stalin), the translator of Sakharov's memoirs, touches briefly on Sakharov's scientific innovations (he was pivotal in the development of the H-bomb), but is primarily interested in his political life. Relying on published sources, correspondence and memoirs, he describes Sakharov's upbringing in a liberal family and his rise through the Soviet science program during the 1930s and '40s. Lourie's vivid accounts of Sakharov's meetings with Stalin and KGB chief Beria, his role in the intelligentsia, his marriages and his cramped apartments offer a textured picture of Soviet life during the Cold War. Yet his explanations of what motivated Sakharov to sacrifice the perks of being a Soviet hero for the dangers of political dissidence he was placed under house arrest in the city of Gorky for six years are speculative and less satisfying. Part of the problem appears to be Sakharov himself: he "is as elusive in death as in life," Lourie admits in the final few pages. Despite this weakness, Lourie's intelligent, engaging biography will be appreciated by those interested in Russian and Cold War history. Photos not seen by PW.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In contrast to two of Lourie's previous Russian-oriented works, Hunting the Devil and The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin: A Novel, this fine book about a truly great man probes the mystery of virtue. Lourie traces the young Sakharov's upbringing and early years, his love of physics, and his survival under the brutal conditions of the Stalinist Soviet Union in war and peace. He was drafted in 1948 to work on the Soviet H-bomb project and was lavishly rewarded for his work. Soon he began to comprehend the utter insanity of thermonuclear war. In the post-Stalinist decades, he became leader of the loyal opposition to Soviet military and political policies and a champion of human rights. Lourie focuses on this process, presenting a striking portrait of the crude, bullying tyranny of Soviet power against one man strong only in his moral courage and convictions, ably seconded by his equally fearless wife and partner, Elena Bonner. Sakharov is well served by this biography, which is recommended for academic and general collections. Robert H. Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ont.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nadezhda Mandelstam once wrote that "a person with inner freedom, memory, and fear is that reed, that twig that changes the direction of a rushing river." Andrei Sakharov, scientist and father of the Soviet H-bomb, was such a twig, a twig that helped changed the course of Soviet and Russian history.

How does a man evolve from being a relatively apolitical nuclear physicist in the 1940s to being the moral conscience of a nation striving for democracy by the time of his death in 1989? How does a man who was offered and provided all the material comforts available to the preeminent scientist in the USSR turn away from those temptations and choose, instead, to stand a lonely vigil outside kangaroo courts intent on hounding dissidents who dared to speak out against the Soviet regime?

Lourie's marvelous biography of Sakharov does a fine job of setting out both how and why Sakharov evolved from a hero of the USSR with direct telephone access to the Kremlin into a pariah who was hounded, slandered, and finally sent into internal exile in the closed city of Gorky. Yet, by the end of his life, Sakharov, this mere twig, managed to face down and indeed outlast those that set the political might of a nation against him.

Lourie comes to Sakharov with an impressive background in Russian and Soviet history and literature. He has translated numerous works of fiction, including works by Vladimir Voinovich, and also translated Sakharov's Memoirs. (The tragic story of the destruction of numerous drafts of Sakharov's Memoirs by the KGB is set out in detail in Lourie's biography.)

Sakharov is set out in a straightforward, chronological fashion. It begins with Sakharov's family background and his childhood and early adult years.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bruce P. Barten on July 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book slowly. The author has gathered a lot of details and his interest in Russia is the main context in which the subject is considered. With the emphasis in this book on how extraordinary the Communist regime of the Soviet Union had been in ruthlessness even before it had the opportunity to acquire atomic weapons, I was afraid that its approach to what I was really interested in would be too tame and toothless for my taste. More than most nuclear scientists, Andrei Sakharov has been recognized as a great dissident. Many thought that this was some kind of folly. "In a joke of the time a dog explains glasnost: `The chain is longer, the food is still far away, but you can bark all you want.'" (p. 373). Jokes were a major feature of the situation. There is a paragraph early in the book, about a mannerism of a great Russian poet, who announced his appreciation for the best of his own work with the words, "`O Pushkin, you . . . !' At moments of insight, rubbing his hands in delight, Sakharov would repeat those words aloud." (p. 48) The big joke about Pushkin was most appropriate a hundred years after his death, after the official Pushkin Year of 1937, when a few people still had the nerve to say: "If Pushkin had lived in our times, he still would have died in '37." (p. 46). Sakharov grew up in tough times, but his sense of reality grew in proportion to the responsibilities which he assumed. When he was picked on in a personal manner, and he felt that the Soviet system reacted in a way that seemed inappropriate to him personally, he was capable of exhibiting his own toughness. When Tatiana, Bonner's daughter, was expelled from Moscow University, he was capable of losing the restraint with which people are expected to submit to those who sit in positions of authority.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Vijay K. Gurbani on July 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Sakharov was the father of the Russian atomic program; he was Oppenheimer, Teller, and Feynman, all rolled into one. The book traces Russia from before his birth to his death, as it rises against Germany and sinks into the depths of Stalin's Terror and Kuruschev's reign. Sakharov, given immense importance under Stalin and Kuruschev, finds himself at odd with what he created. He wants so much to redeem himself that he devotes the remaining of his life to the Russian resistance. And he suffers for this - all the perks and medals he earned for his work on Russia's atomic program are summarily taken back by the state. He is exiled to Gorky and is spied on by KGB. His memoirs are stolen on two occassions by the KGB; depressed, almost suicidal, he rewrites them from memory. This was an excellent look into a very interesting country in the context of an equally interesting protagonist. It is said that mathematicians (and probably theoritical physicists) have a short career; their inventions and discoveries are made when they are young, and they whittle away in their middle- and old ages. Could be that Sakharov, having contributed to many such inventions and discoveries, figured that joining the resistance is a far better legacy. Being considered the father of the atomic program of a country is a big burden to bear; I am reminded of Oppenheimer's words when he witnessed what he had created. All he could think about was Lord Krishna's words in the Bhagavad Gita: "I am death, shatterer of worlds, annhilating all things." I would recommend this book for a great insight into Russia through the eyes of one of its best known (and loved) citizens.
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