Five Billion Vodka Bottles to the Moon: Tales of a Soviet Scientist

Iosif Shklovsky, Author, I. S. Shklovskii, Author W. W. Norton & Company $19.95 (268p) ISBN 978-0-393-02990-1
These shrewd and poignant anecdotes of a creative astrophysicist's life in the Soviet Union bear witness to the scars of his generation: WW II privation and poverty, Cold War science hysteria, Soviet anti-Semitism, the politicization of science. Shklovsky seems to have borne them all with nearly comic grace while producing some of the era's most important theoretical insights, in radioastronomy in particular. His Jewish ethos, his iconoclastic nature (the title metaphor refers to Shklovsky's own calculation of the magnitude of the U.S.S.R.'s alcoholism problem) and the intuitive, even eccentric nature of his work, kept him outside the Soviet science establishment but made him both loved and respected in the international space-science community. The science in the book is almost incidental to Shklovsky's sketches of working within Soviet bureaucracy, battling academic hacks, impressions from his few trips to the West and encounters with colleagues like Andrei Sakharov and Lev Landau. This collection, selected from a typescript version circulated in the Soviet scientific community, includes his ponderings on extraterrestrial life, initial encounters with a French menu--and firsthand accounts of the terrors of Stalinist repression. The book gives a ragged impression of a scientist who was a strong force in his field and an irrepressible spirit. Shklovsky died in 1985 at age 69. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/03/1991
Release date: 06/01/1991
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