Donald Rayfield

Trial & Terror

Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy 1905–1953

By Simon Ings

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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.

Sara Stewart


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