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Hardcover | $7.75 Short | £6.95 | 320 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 23 b&w illus. | September 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014588
eBook | $20.95 Short | September 2010 | ISBN: 9780262290104
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Lenin's Laureate

Zhores Alferov's Life in Communist Science


In 2000, Russian scientist Zhores Alferov shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of the heterojunction, a semiconductor device the practical applications of which include LEDs, rapid transistors, and the microchip. The Prize was the culmination of a career in Soviet science that spanned the eras of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev—and continues today in the postcommunist Russia of Putin and Medvedev.

In Lenin’s Laureate, historian Paul Josephson tells the story of Alferov’s life and work and examines the bureaucratic, economic, and ideological obstacles to doing state-sponsored scientific research in the Soviet Union. Lenin and the Bolsheviks built strong institutions for scientific research, rectifying years of neglect under the Czars. Later generations of scientists, including Alferov and his colleagues, reaped the benefits, achieving important breakthroughs: the first nuclear reactor for civilian energy, an early fusion device, and, of course, the Sputnik satellite. Josephson’s account of Alferov’s career reveals the strengths and weaknesses of Soviet science—a schizophrenic environment of cutting-edge research and political interference. Alferov, born into a family of Communist loyalists, joined the party in 1967. He supported Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980s, but later became frustrated by the recession-plagued postcommunist state’s failure to fund scientific research adequately. An elected member of the Russian parliament since 1995, he uses his prestige as a Nobel laureate to protect Russian science from further cutbacks.

Drawing on extensive archival research and the author’s own discussions with Alferov, Lenin’s Laureate offers a unique account of Soviet science, presented against the backdrop of the USSR’s turbulent history from the revolution through perestroika.

Table of Contents

  • Lenin’s Laureate
  • Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology
  • Jed Z. Buchwald, general editor
  • Dolores L. Augustine,
  • Red Prometheus: Engineering and Dictatorship in East Germany, 1945–1990
  • Lawrence Badash,
  • A Nuclear Winter’s Tale: Science and Politics in the 1980s
  • Mordechai Feingold, editor,
  • Jesuit Science and the Republic of Letters
  • Larrie D. Ferreiro,
  • Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600–1800
  • Sander Gliboff,
  • H. G. Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism: A Study in Translation and Transformation
  • Niccolò Guicciardini,
  • Isaac Newton on Mathematical Certainty and Method
  • Kristine Harper,
  • Weather by the Numbers: The Genesis of Modern Meteorology
  • Sungook Hong,
  • Wireless: From Marconi’s Black-Box to the Audion
  • Jeff Horn,
  • The Path Not Taken: French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution, 1750–1830
  • Myles W. Jackson,
  • Harmonious Triads: Physicists, Musicians, and Instrument Makers in Nineteenth-Century Germany
  • Myles W. Jackson,
  • Spectrum of Belief: Joseph von Fraunhofer and the Craft of Precision Optics
  • Mi Gyung Kim,
  • Affinity, That Elusive Dream: A Genealogy of the Chemical Revolution
  • Ursula Klein and Wolfgang Lefèvre,
  • Materials in Eighteenth-Century Science: A Historical Ontology
  • John Krige,
  • American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe
  • Janis Langins,
  • Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to the Revolution
  • Wolfgang Lefèvre, editor,
  • Picturing Machines 1400–1700
  • Staffan Müller-Wille and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, editors,
  • Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500–1870
  • William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton, editors,
  • Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe
  • Gianna Pomata and Nancy G. Siraisi, editors,
  • Historia: Empiricism and Erudition in Early Modern Europe
  • Alan J. Rocke,
  • Nationalizing Science: Adolphe Wurtz and the Battle for French Chemistry
  • George Saliba,
  • Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance
  • Suman Seth,
  • Crafting the Quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the Practice of Theory, 1890–1926
  • Nicolás Wey Gómez,
  • The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies
  • Paul R. Josephson,
  • Lenin’s Laureate: Zhores Alferov’s Life in Communist Science
  • Lenin’s Laureate
  • Zhores Alferov’s Life in Communist Science
  • Paul R. Josephson
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about quantity discounts, email
  • Set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Graphic Composition, Inc. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • {Comp: Please insert your name in where indicated above.}
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Josephson, Paul R.
  • Lenin’s laureate : Zhores Alferov’s life in communist science / Paul R. Josephson.
  •  p. cm. — (Transformations : studies in the history of science and technology)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01458-8 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Alferov, Zh. I. 2. Physicists—Russia (Federation)—Biography. 3. Physics—Russia (Federation)—History. 4. Science and state—Russia (Federation)—History. I. Title.
  • QC16.A3417J67 2010
  • 509.47'0904—dc22
  • 2010005431
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1
  • 1 Childhood
  • 15
  • 2 Heroes and Hero Projects
  • 57
  • 3 Research and Reforms
  • 109
  • 4 From Transistors to Heterojunctions
  • 153
  • 5 Perestroika and Politics
  • 177
  • 6 Scholar, Laureate, and Statesman
  • 215
  • Afterword and Acknowledgments
  • 267
  • Notes
  • 271
  • Index
  • 301


Lenin’s Laureate is science biography at its best: a penetrating study of the driving forces of the Russian scientific community. Josephson’s exceptional storytelling weaves together research aspirations, big politics, and lyrical poetry to create this multifaceted portrait of a leading physicist struggling to assert scientific values and to uphold the value of science through political and economic turmoil. To solve the riddle of Russian science—why it produced Nobel laureates under Communism and faltered under the new democratic regime—read this book.”
Slava Gerovitch, author of From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics
“In Lenin’s Laureate, Paul Josephson examines a scientific community in a profoundly unpredictable environment, focusing on a single figure with the talent and savvy (as well as sheer good fortune) to succeed in that environment. The result is a warm and sympathetic portrayal of a complex individual. The life of Zhores Alferov provides a well-chosen window onto the history of more than half a century of Soviet and post-Soviet science.”
Suman Seth, Department of Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University