Stalin was more an arts man than a scientist. He knew his Shakespeare, lauding The Tempest, as might be expected of a Caliban who overthrew several Prosperos, and effectively banning Hamlet, as did Catherine the Great. He read Plato in the original (and plagiarised The Republic in his prescriptions for poets). He stopped writing poetry in Georgian at sixteen, but contributed Russian verse for the national anthem, improved on poets’ translations and made changes to the film script for Ivan the Terrible. He demonstrated little aptitude for science, but, as Simon Ings shows, he took a keen interest in scientists, promoting not the competent but instead those who had no connections to foreigners or the pre-revolutionary past, making exceptions only when the survival of the regime was at stake and when the Soviet atomic bomb had to be built.
Stalin’s regime boasted scientific foundations: Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism was a science, after all. But after the initial post-revolutionary destitution came the despotism of the ignorant over the educated: from 1930 to 1953, blunders and repression destroyed more scientists and more science than official policy or national need could nurture.
Ings devotes most of