Paul Bishop is William Jacks Chair of Modern Languages at the University of Glasgow and a fellow of the In-
stitute of Linguists. He has published widely on various aspects of intellectual history, especially psychoanaly-
sis and analytical psychology, and is currently working on an introduction to the thought of Ludwig Klages.
Nikolaevich Luzin. Translated by Roger Cooke. (History of Mathematics, 43.) xxix +
375 pp., illus., indexes. Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society, 2016.
The ﬂourishing of mathematics in the Soviet Union is often explained by portraying this ﬁeld as allegedly
isolated from ideological and political inﬂuences and therefore attractive to thinkers striving for intellec-
tual autonomy. This book is a very powerful statement to the contrary. In July 1936 a group of talented
young mathematicians, former members of “Luzitania,” an informal creative mathematical circle led by
the charismatic Nikolai Luzin, viciously attacked their own teacher, falsely accusing him of all sorts of
misdeeds—from academic misconduct to anti-Soviet activity. The Case of Academician Nikolai Nikolae-
vich Luzin gives voice to all participants—both the accusers and Luzin himself—and presents overwhelm-
ing documentary evidence to conclude that mathematicians themselves, not an outside political force,
drove the charges against Luzin, in pursuit of their own political and administrative gains.
The bulk of the book is made up of the translated minutes of ﬁve sessions of the Soviet Academy of
Sciences Special Commission appointed in July 1936 to investigate the accusations against Luzin. Intro-
ductory articles put the events in a broader historical context, and a richly detailed commentary provides
ample evidence to evaluate the validity of the charges.
The accusers, among them the future leaders of Soviet mathematics Pavel Aleksandrov, Sergei So-
bolev, and Andrei Kolmogorov, showed remarkable political adroitness and drew on the vast repertoire
of Soviet ideological clichés to attack Luzin. The variety of charges reﬂected the diverse agendas of the
different accusing parties. While committed ideologues labeled Luzin a reactionary proponent of fascist
ideas, more practical, career-minded mathematicians were accusing him of holding up the promotions
of younger scholars in the academy. While some accusers focused solely on the allegations of plagiarism,
others brought forward the heavy political charges of deliberate concealment of problems with math-
ematical education and denounced him as an enemy of the Soviet state, which could potentially lead to
Luzin’s expulsion from the Academy of Sciences and his possible arrest and execution.
The higher political authorities, however, including Stalin himself, did not seem to be interested in
the petty ﬁghts over priority or administrative rivalry. They showed concern about only one issue—Luzin’s
close ties with French mathematicians and his habit of publishing much of his work abroad. Luzin was
apparently considered for the role of whipping boy in a public ideological campaign aimed at reafﬁrming
scientists’ commitment to the goals and values of the Soviet state. A series of meetings condemning “Luz-
inism” swept through the scientiﬁc community, extracting pledges from scientists to publish their work
ﬁrst and foremost in Soviet academic journals. The choice of Luzin as a target in this particular campaign,
however, did not prove wise, as most leading Soviet mathematicians, including many of his accusers, were
similarly publishing their work abroad, for the simple reasons of wider reach and speed of publication;
indeed, Luzin was probably not the worst offender. Eventually the higher authorities decided to leave
Luzin alone, and the Academy of Sciences Special Commission had to back down and downgrade the
accusations. Luzin lost his position of authority but remained a full member of the Soviet academy.
The outcome of the Luzin affair was a decisive shift of administrative power from the older generation
of mathematicians to a younger cohort. A similar generational conﬂict played out at about the same time
in France between the old guard (René-Louis Baire, Arnaud Denjoy, and Henri Lebesgue—all connected
to Luzin) and the Young Turks (e.g., André Weil, who had links to Luzin’s accusers). The young genera-
tion fought their ﬁghts with the resources available to them, and in the Soviet context such resources in-
cluded ideological charges and political accusations. A signiﬁcant change in research focus accompanied
this power shift—from Luzin’s somewhat old-fashioned interests in descriptive set theory and mathemati-
cal analysis to his students’ trendy research on topology and group theory. Ironically, the hierarchical So-
viet system of organization of research, which concentrated decision-making power in the hands of several
authoritative ﬁgures, made those individuals natural targets of attacks by those desiring change.
Roger Cooke’s superb translation of the Special Commission’s minutes conveys the gloomy and fasci-
nating stylistic mix of mathematicians’ careful professional wording, Soviet bureaucratic clichés, and the
inﬂammatory language of political accusations. This is not an easy read; nor should it be, given the heavy
emotional load of the proceedings. Yet this is a must-read for any historian of science under an authoritar-
ian regime and for historians of twentieth-century mathematics.
The Luzin case left a deep scar in the collective memory of the Soviet mathematics community.
Luzin’s accusers preferred to remain silent about the whole affair. Some of them lavished posthumous
praise on their teacher, masking their role in the notorious campaign. Most original documents were
destroyed (this publication is based on a recent accidental ﬁnd of barely legible bottom carbon copies).
Yet, through word of mouth, talk of the ethical failures of Luzin’s students continued to spread, black-
ening their reputations and poisoning the moral atmosphere in the community. This publication (the
Russian original came out in 1999) is a difﬁcult post-Soviet effort to come to terms with the Stalinist past.
Ironically, the English translation arrives at a moment when political attitudes in Russia have taken a turn
toward renewed nationalism and scholars are once again publicly castigated for their lack of “patriotism”
and dubious connections with the West. History repeats its tragedies, but not necessarily as farce. If forgot-
ten, it repeats itself as another tragedy.
Slava Gerovitch is a historian of Soviet mathematics, science, and technology who teaches at the Mas-
sachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet
Cybernetics, Voices of the Soviet Space Program, and Soviet Space Mythologies, a ﬁnalist for the 2016
Historia Nova Prize.
Axel Jansen; Andreas Franzmann; Peter Münte (Editors). Legitimizing Science: National
and Global Publics (1800–2010). 331 pp., ﬁgs. Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag, 2015.
Ever since Big Science lost its energy from the Space Race, and the rising costs of cutting-edge medical
research resulted in politicians questioning the necessity of state involvement in them, science has been
under heavy ﬁre. It is not surprising that historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science incessantly
propose and discuss models of politics-science relations and entanglements. Legitimizing Science, the
result of a 2013 workshop in Tübingen, Germany, is another recent publication asking how the science-
policy nexus functions and how scientists garner the “legitimacy that science itself cannot provide” (p. 11).
The introductory essay by the editors, Andreas Franzmann, Axel Jansen, and Peter Münte, discusses
the modes of interaction between science and elites, the latter described as having a “key role in shielding
the experimental sciences from religious or cultural attacks and in supporting and transferring authority to
them” (p. 12). This quotation, however generalizing it might be, gives a good sense of the general outline
of the topics in which scientists stay on one side and politics—research policies, grant agencies, or even
professional politicians—stays on the other. The second introductory essay, by Rudolf Stichweh, takes the
longue durée perspective and asks how we can understand science-society and science-politics couplings