This book betrays two very different Sakharovs who hardly seem to have communicated with each other. The first was the cold-blooded inventor of the Russian hydrogen bombs; the second was the fearless leader of the Russian intelligentsia's struggle for human rights. For twenty years, from 1948 until his dismissal in 1968, Sakharov masterminded the scientific groundwork for the development and perfection of ever more lethal atomic weapons, blindly and obsessively absorbed in work that he describes as a theoretician's paradise. His inventive genius was rewarded by election to full membership of the Academy of Sciences at the unprecedented age of 32, and by being decorated three times with the gold medal of Hero of Socialist Labour. In 1962, he attended a banquet in the Kremlin, seated between Khrushchev and Brezhnev who hugged him in front of the entire Politburo and Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, to thank him for his patriotic work, 'which was helping to prevent a new war'. This work was the design of a new 'improved' hydrogen bomb of unprecedented power. There is no sign that the second Sakharov, once he had realised the true nature of Khrushchev's and Brezhnev's regimes, ever asked whether it was wise to put these terrible weapons of mass destruction into their hands. Or what need there was to develop these weapons.
LRB 27 September 1990 | PDF Download