Dennis Boccippio's Reviews > The Making of a Soviet Scientist: My Adventures in Nuclear Fusion and Space from Stalin to Star Wars

The Making of a Soviet Scientist by Roald Z. Sagdeev
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Apr 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history, physics, space, 20th-century, memoir

Sagdeev's autobiography is a warm, enjoyable and surprising window into the history of Soviet science, and indirectly of the Soviet Union itself. Viewing this history from the perspective of a scientist provides an accessibility to the material, and Sagdeev's dry humor keeps it alive.

Most interesting were the chapters on the Soviet (scientific) space program, whose "issues" are remarkably similar to those of the US civil space program, both past and present. Whether in the interplay between aerospace industry and national space policy (and programs), competition between human and robotic spaceflight, the role of civil space in international diplomacy, the crushing micromanagement of programs by bureaucracies at the top, the development of large programs before the identification of mission requirements, or the nepotistic promotion of technological "miracle cures" which lack technical credibility or community endorsement to senior officials, Sagdeev's Soviet civil space program will sound hauntingly familiar to those familiar with the U.S. program.

Sagdeev's balancing act as "forward and alternative thinker", yet not full blown Sakharov dissident, also provides a unique vantage into exactly how far the Soviet system could be challenged from within.

The only weakness of this book is that it draws to a somewhat hurried conclusion which disrupts an otherwise strong and fairly linear narrative through most decades of the 20th century. The final chapters cover interesting material but lose focus and flow, regrettable as they cover critical periods in the 1980s as the Soviet Union drew to a close.

Overall, I found this book to be a surprising and welcome "find" which should be of interest to for either scientifically or historically minded readers.
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