Cover image for Sakharov : a biography
Sakharov : a biography
Lourie, Richard, 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Hanover, NH : Brandeis University Press : University Press of New England, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 465 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DK275.S25 L68 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"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.

Author Notes

Richard Lourie, an American writer, is a leading translator of contemporary Russian and Polish authors, a journalist, and a producer of film and television documentaries. His books of fiction and nonfiction include The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin (1999), Hunting the Devil (1993), Russia Speaks (1989), and First Loyalty (1983)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov never held elective political office. Yet his impact on history was arguably as great. Sakharov, a great physicist and the "father of the Soviet H-bomb," became the leading dissident of the Soviet Union and a beacon of hope for the worldwide struggle for human rights. Lourie, a journalist who translated Sakharov's memoirs, has written a fine biography that captures the essence of this complicated man while placing him within the proper historical context. This is not a hagiography; Sakharov could be rigid, stubborn, and frustratingly naive. Yet, two constant characteristics shine through: Sakharov's basic decency and his courage. It was those assets that allowed him to challenge and to ultimately triumph over the entrenched power of Soviet totalitarianism. Utilizing newly accessible KGB files as well as Sakharov's personal correspondence, Lourie provides a revealing portrait of an extraordinary man to whom the world owes a great debt. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Reports from KGB Chief Andropov to the Central Committeep. 1
Chapter 1 A Difficult Birthp. 3
Chapter 2 A Soviet Zodiacp. 21
Chapter 3 The World Aglowp. 37
Chapter 4 War and Lovep. 54
Chapter 5 "A Change in Everything"p. 71
Chapter 6 Chain of Commandp. 93
Chapter 7 The Savior of Russiap. 109
Chapter 8 Complicitiesp. 145
Chapter 9 Critical Massp. 176
Chapter 10 Vita Nuovap. 215
Chapter 11 Escalationsp. 243
Chapter 12 Duelp. 276
Chapter 13 The Blessings of Exilep. 303
Chapter 14 Astonishing Timesp. 355
Epilogue: The Life after Deathp. 399
Notesp. 413
Bibliographyp. 445
Acknowledgmentsp. 451
Indexp. 455