Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Stalin and the Scientists

A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953

by Simon Ings

An eye-opening history of science in the Soviet Union, following the generation of scientists who survived Stalin’s rule and helped to reshape the world.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 528
  • Publication Date February 20, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2759-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $19.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 528
  • Publication Date February 21, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2598-9
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00

About The Book

Scientists throughout history, from Galileo to today’s experts on climate change, have often had to contend with politics in their pursuit of knowledge. But in the Soviet Union, where the ruling elites embraced, patronized, and even fetishized science like never before, scientists lived their lives on a knife edge. The Soviet Union had the best-funded scientific establishment in history. Scientists were elevated as popular heroes and lavished with awards and privileges. But if their ideas or their field of study lost favor with the elites, they could be exiled, imprisoned, or murdered. And yet they persisted, making major contributions to twentieth-century science.

Stalin and the Scientists tells the story of the hugely gifted scientists who worked in Russia from the years leading up to the Revolution through the death of the “Great Scientist” himself, Joseph Stalin. It weaves together the stories of scientists, politicians, and ideologues into an intimate and sometimes horrifying portrait of a state determined to remake the world. They often wreaked great harm. Stalin was himself an amateur botanist, and by falling under the sway of dangerous charlatans like Trofim Lysenko (who denied the existence of genes), and by relying on antiquated ideas of biology, he not only destroyed the lives of hundreds of brilliant scientists, he caused the death of millions through famine. But from atomic physics to management theory, and from radiation biology to neuroscience and psychology, these Soviet experts also discovered breakthroughs that forever changed agriculture, education, and medicine.

A masterful book that deepens our understanding of Russian history, Stalin and the Scientists is a great achievement of research and storytelling, and a gripping look at what happens when science falls prey to politics.


“In Stalin and the Scientists, Simon Ings, culture editor at New Scientist(UK), very effectively relates a set of stories—compelling, often horrifying, sometimes both at once—of the most singular period in the history of Russian science.” —Aileen M. Kelly, American Scholar

“An engrossing and disturbing cautionary tale illustrating the dangers that arise when rigid state ideology collides with scientific reality.” —Booklist

“A provocative and increasingly chilling work that shows how scientists in the nascent Soviet Union were sacrificed to the Soviet dream of building the ideal state.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[A] lively book . . . This is a fascinating story of brilliant scientists and charlatans, of visionaries and careerists, of civic courage and moral cowardice. The author explains the scientific issues in a clear and simple way, so the reader is aware of the issues at stake.” —David Holloway, Guardian

“An artful synthesis of basic science and political infighting.” —Andrew Robinson, Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Ings tells his story with vigour . . . The bewildering array of scientists, philosophers and politicians is matched by the impressive range of topics that Ings discusses.” —Manjit Kumar, New Statesman (UK)

“Endlessly entertaining . . . An amusing book . . . [Ings’s] storytelling skill is everywhere evident; the book . . . is lively, dramatic, intriguing, and often very funny. Ings also has a wonderful ability to explain complex notions.” —Gerard DeGroot, Times (UK)

“[Ings] has an eye for the interactions between the worlds of the laboratory, the print room and the corridors of power . . . Stalin and the Scientists is a fascinating read. Well researched and written in a lively and engaging style, it grips like a good novel would.” —Eoin Ó Broin, Sunday Business Post (UK)

“[A] real-life 20th century drama that Simon Ings so poignantly recounts . . . A tale that should be known to all who value freedom and creativity . . . [A] brilliant book.” — Vitali Vitaliev, E&T Magazine (UK)

“A great book . . . A vast tapestry of Russian history from the mid-19th century . . . The great themes and contributions of Russian science . . . are illustrated with detailed examples, anecdotes and apt quotations.” —Vin Arthey, Scotland on Sunday

“[A] monumental chronicle . . . Ings ably tweezers the discoveries and disasters out of this political train-wreck.” —Barbara Kiser, Nature

“In Stalin and the Scientists, Simon Ings has produced one of the finest, most gripping surveys of the history of Russian science in the twentieth century. Deeply researched and written with a sense of burning importance, Ings’s book ranges widely from politics to philosophy, from economics to biography to recount the monumental successes of Russian scientists and the Soviet State’s Mephistophelean embrace of the scientific community. It is a fascinating work that both inspires and terrifies.” —Douglas Smith, author of Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

“A dazzling, often astonishing prism through which to view the Soviet experiment” —Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia


Longlisted for the 2016 Baillie-Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction
New York Times Book Review Paperback Row


The controversies over genetics came to a head at the fourth annual session of the Lenin Academy, that vast conglomerate of all things agricultural. The organizers of the session, which ran from December 19 to 26, 1936, had never planned it to be some kind of extra-judicial venue to try genetics. Nicolai Ivanovich Muralov, the new head of the Lenin Academy, tried to maintain an even-handed debate. Muralov’s reputation was one of warmth and fairness—but he was in serious trouble. Trotsky had been his friend and champion. That sort of affiliation was by now quite enough to get a person killed.

There was another problem with Muralov—one which came to shape the Lenin Academy’s session in a way that sent a chill through Vavilov and the field of genetics: Muralov knew nothing whatsoever about genetics.