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.
This book tells the story of the man, his passions, and the time and place where they all played out.
“As Richard Lourie’s new, subtle and revealing biography of Sakharov demonstrates... [Sakharov] ranks with Nelson Mandela as a person who helped guide his country to democracy, changing himself in the process. One of the strengths of Lourie’s biography is his description and analysis of how this transition occurred... a fascinating account of Sakharov... [Lourie’s] analysis of [Sakharov’s] complicated political journey seems authentic and immensely revealing.” — Loren Graham, The New York Times
“A vivid portrait of [Sakharov,] this moral and intellectual giant... Lourie has written a highly intelligent and exceptionally readable book. He not only captures his protagonist admirably but exhibits a fine feel for the social and political backdrop as well as for the peculiar mixture of fearful servility and courageous generosity of the Russian people. Among other things, he vividly brings to life how the Communist regime constrained scientists, sometimes even arresting and murdering them, while those who survived persevered in their work to achieve remarkable results.” — Aleksa Djilas, Commentary Magazine
“Lourie does full justice to a life that could not be more engrossing. The socially introverted son of Moscow intelligentsia, Andrei Sakharov became a star physics pupil, then chief architect of the Soviet Union’s first thermonuclear device, and later on a dissident and target of KGB ire — and finally the moral conscience of a democratically awakening Russia... The evolution from a politically passive scientist to a lonely figure holding sidewalk vigils outside kangaroo courtrooms is almost unfathomable for a non-Russian. Lourie, however, makes it comprehensible, not least by painting with an artist’s spare, deft strokes this transcendent figure into the history of his day.” — Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs
“Richard Lourie is ideally placed to write the first full biography of this remarkable man. He was able to interview Sakharov and many of his colleagues. He has translated Sakharov’s memoirs, and often uses direct speech drawn from them to take us behind the scenes without giving rise to the usual suspicion of novelistic invention. This makes for an engagingly readable book... Lourie’s appraisal of Sakharov as a man is scrupulously balanced, with as much emphasis on his obstinacy as on his compassion... The book conveys both the elation of scientific work, the intense love between Sakharov and his second wife, and the bewildering nature of human courage.” — Elaine Feinstein, The Telegraph
“The inventor of the Soviet H-bomb, [Sakharov] was in the forefront of the post-war breakthrough in thermonuclear physics that led to the creation of atomic energy. Yet he also stood, heroically at times, in the vanguard of the movement for human rights in the Soviet Union. Richard Lourie tells both these stories in this first full-length biography of the physicist and dissident. Lourie has benefited from the recent publication of the KGB files on Sakharov. He also knew the man himself, whose Memoirs he helped to smuggle out of Russia to the West (where they were published in Lourie’s translation a year after Sakharov’s death in 1989). Sakharov’s widow, Elena Bonner, has helped Lourie’s research, which adds a welcome new perspective on the last 20 years of his eventful life, when husband and wife were subjected to a bullying campaign of threats and slander by the KGB in a vain attempt to silence them.” — Orlando Figes, The Telegraph
“A solid factual and interpretive study... Sakharov is an important account of one scientist’s courage and his quest for a humane world at peace.” — Herbert Mitgang, Chicago Tribune
“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... 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... Lourie’s intelligent, engaging biography will be appreciated by those interested in Russian and Cold War history.” — 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.