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Total Posts: 1089
Joined: Feb 2007
Posted: 2016-04-17 06:49
Has anyone written a book on the impact of Soviet science, math and technology? Over the years I come across weird things; the fact that linear programming was invented by Kantorovich, the Ekranoplan, optical computing, nonlinear control theory, a la Lyapunov and friends, multi-objective optimization research, everything Kolmogorov did,Phage therapy. Soviets did weird stuff. It would be great if someone had a book outlining all the weird things which were done in the Soviet Union. Barring that, a map to other interesting things.

"Learning, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious."


Total Posts: 953
Joined: Jun 2007
Posted: 2016-04-17 12:11

I am not aware of such a book but would be very interested too.

A fun fact on the side is, that the wiki article on phage therapy isn't available in russian language, only in belarus.

What really saddens me is the incredible hype of pseudo science in russia today.

Ich kam hierher und sah dich und deine Leute lächeln, und sagte mir: Maggette, scheiss auf den small talk, lass lieber deine Fäuste sprechen...


Total Posts: 303
Joined: Feb 2014
Posted: 2016-04-17 15:03

Time well wasted.


Total Posts: 105
Joined: Mar 2009
Posted: 2016-04-17 15:16
There is 6-volume set of Kolmogorov selected works in russian -

I have two - the one is on the Probability Theory and the second on the Information Theory. They are quite comprehensive and provide a review of related literature published in USSR. One volume is specifically about soviet mathematicians -


Total Posts: 1041
Joined: Nov 2007
Posted: 2016-04-17 21:18
Jslade, I am not sure I quite understand what you are really after. Maybe this perhaps and another read

Be carefull that there are some totally wrong assumptions in the discussion of the article, as pointed by one commenter
"Joel Cohen, Univ of Md • 4 years ago Part of this is based on a false premise. There was constant contact between American and Soviet mathematicians throughout the 60's, 70's and 80's. Visits were frequent (rarer for Soviets to come to the US, although I hosted two Soviet mathematicians in 1967) until the 80's. Immigration of mathematicians to and through Israel was very heavy in the late 70's and throughout the 80's. Every American mathematician knew pretty much what his or her counterparts in the Soviet Union were doing and vice-versa. The Soviet mathematicians did tend to be better trained and very hard-working and remain even today among the starts of American mathematics."

Maybe what can be said in two short words about Soviet style science- is : lack of means- (unless there could be some military application), political censorship, were both stimulating original thoughts and different roads to sometimes the same problems that western counterparts were studiying as well as hampering progress depending ... this is still so, but a little less now although...there was still a great permeability, much more as is believed in the West. And there is a lot of good people and also less good people there too, those who came abroad often were good and ended in places a little below their levels, so that explains sometimes the eviction effect. Still I believe this nation's people have a great ability to think out of the box.. naturally. Poly

Свобода - это то, что у меня внутри. (Ленинград и Кипелов - "Свобода")


Total Posts: 1582
Joined: Sep 2006
Posted: 2016-04-17 21:30
Landau & Lifshitz.

I haven't read this one, but here it is anyway (sourced from Landau's wiki page):
Kojevnikov, Alexei B. (2004). Stalin's Great Science: The Times and Adventures of Soviet Physicists. History of Modern Physical Sciences. Imperial College Press. ISBN 1-86094-420-5.

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Posted: 2016-04-18 01:58
I used to enjoy stories form the old-times (from both sides) that told me stories about discoveries that were unwittingly simultaneous, or pre/post-dated one another between the US and USSR. That would be a good book.

Nonius is Satoshi Nakamoto. 物の哀れ

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Nonius Unbound
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Posted: 2016-04-18 08:10
Water Integrator

Chiral is Tyler Durden


Total Posts: 1089
Joined: Feb 2007
Posted: 2016-04-29 04:18
The fluid computer is weird, though not surprising. I know the Soviets did a lot with optical and other kinds of analog computing as well.

Here's a weird one I came across, "Neural Networks and Micromechanics," which is a decent exemplar for "holy shit, those Soviets were weird." Refugees from some Ukraine science institute where they were building ... micromachines (as in lathes and endmills) with neural net brains. Also, physical neural net architectured computers. I don't think anyone in the US was doing anything like this. Maybe it was crazy. It is certainly weird.

I'm no neural net expert, but some of the architectures listed here: also weird.

Neural Networks and Micromechanics by Kussul Baidyk & Wunsch

"Learning, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious."

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Posted: 2016-04-29 15:34
Vodka Computer beats Water Computer

Nonius is Satoshi Nakamoto. 物の哀れ


Total Posts: 370
Joined: Nov 2006
Posted: 2016-04-29 19:41

Lyapunov did his work on the stability of dynamical systems in the late 19th century, long before the Soviet Union even existed. He committed suicide in 1918, during the Russian Civil War.

In Soviet times, Pontryagin [1] made significant contributions to optimal control theory, and the maximum principle is named after him. He was blind, and did all the work in his head, which he then dictated to his infinitely patient mother.

Some Soviet control theorists would be Yakubovich and Popov, after whom the Kalman–Yakubovich–Popov lemma is named, Krasovsky [2], and Nikolai Gurevich Chetaev.

In optimal control, a popular joke is that the Soviets proved everything there was to prove, but kept the proofs under wraps, so that control theorists in the West merely rediscover what the Soviets discovered decades ago.

I heard that some of the claims in western optimal control books are actually wrong. There are some nasty special cases, but only the Russians seem to know about them.


Kantorovich founded linear programming. Khachiyan spawned the ellipsoid algorithm for linear programming. Nemirovski and Nesterov pioneered semidefinite programming, but their most famous work was arguably after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so that probably does not count as Soviet science.


Total Posts: 370
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Posted: 2016-04-29 19:42

[1] Lev Semenovich Pontryagin (1908-1988)

[2] Nikolai Nikolaevich Krasovskii (1924-2012)


Total Posts: 370
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Posted: 2016-04-29 21:15
The Soviets were also pioneers in nonlinear chemical oscillators. The Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction has fascinated me for years.

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Nonius Unbound
Total Posts: 12671
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Posted: 2016-04-29 23:16
my whole view on Soviet Science and French Mathematics and British Bullshit ability to appear Posh is this:

1. Steve Jobs.
2. Jim Clarke.
3. Colonel Saunders.
4. a=a etc.

Chiral is Tyler Durden


Total Posts: 119
Joined: Feb 2011
Posted: 2016-05-15 21:20
I doubt that such a book exists but anyway, science was more or less the only way of self-realization.
There was no opportunity to run a [legal] business, art was ideologically under control and as to political career, well, virtually everybody (esp. from worker's family) can make it but for a critical mind it was so insincere that most of talented people avoided it. - Knowledge rather than Hope: A Book for Retail Investors and Mathematical Finance Students


Total Posts: 360
Joined: Jul 2008
Posted: 2016-06-15 23:06
The Red Plenty


Total Posts: 1089
Joined: Feb 2007
Posted: 2016-06-15 23:35
Red Plenty, I picked up when I developed this interest and read a few chapters. Interesting, but pretty twee and lousy as literature.

I'd really just like a book that listed some of the weird technological stuff the Soviets worked on (I dunno, Ekranoplans), and how the technical direction differed from that in the West and why; ideological reasons, technical limitations, whatever. Seems inherently interesting, but I don't read vodka runes well enough to do primary research myself. When I run across mini endmills with neural net brains, I'd like to know what them crazy guys were thinking about; why they were led there. Was it just a reaction to Drexler nonsense? Were they thinking about something else? What were they planning on doing with these things?

"Learning, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious."


Total Posts: 3
Joined: Jun 2016
Posted: 2016-06-22 18:35
I don't believe any single book is comprehensive (and the ones that attempt to be comprehensive are very spotty, say by Loren Graham), but if we narrow it down to mathematics, or specific sectors, then there are good surveys such as by Bill Gunston and authors that many people have heard of.

There are also some good internet sources. The poster "Ron Maimon" on the internet has good material on Soviet science in general. His non-political posts are worth reading in general, even though some of it is insane (e.g. cold fusion).

His post on Soviet physics:

"In physics, which is the only field I am qualified to judge, the USSR was arguably the best, and if not the best, it was a close second to the US, in any case it is a very tight race. If you ignore the 1960s, where you have Landau's school leading the research on He4 and Superconductivity (although the Americans had Feynman's theory and BCS theory, just to be fair), and just go to the 1970s and 1980s, the Russians were first with Gribov's Reggeon perturbation theory, Polyakov's conformal bootstrap, inflation theory, they had the remarkable Gribov domains, the Shifman Vainshtein Zakharov QCD sum rules, the BPZ revolution in critical phenomena, the Polyakov string, 2d gravity, incredible stuff. It is highly technical (so highly technical that it is not appreciated by non-specialists), and it wasn't flashy enough to get the attention of the Nobel committee, which was somewhat biased against the USSR, not by conspiracy, but just due to Sweden being a Western nation. Soviet science was rather insular due to travel restrictions and no-need for publicity by their scientists. But everyone who reads the technical literature of the 1960s-1980s knows that the USSR was the powerhouse, and you couldn't get by without JETP in your library. It's not just physics of course, they were strong in most technical and engineering fields, with the exception of biological engineering, where they were somewhat behind.

But the US folks were much better in computational stuff, like Renormalization group theory, and Western Europeans and Californians developed string theory, so it's not like the US was slacking off. Like the space race, it was a tight, tight race, that benefited all of humanity. Just the Russians, in my opinion, produced more sophisticated baroque work. Compare the BPZ paper (a masterpiece) with, say, great American papers like those of Edward Witten. They are both great, but the Russians are more "out there" and more technically dense, the ideas come from outer space and it's HARD stuff, I mean, hard for even specialists. It's a total judgement call, and I'm not going to argue this for too long, because it's silly, but there is no doubt that Russia had the strongest or at least second strongest physics in the world in the 1980s (it's gone downhill since the collapse).

Although the Russians were somewhat ahead of the US in analytical tools like dispersion relations and conformal theory, in parts of condensed matter physics, in analytical tools for high energy physics, the Americans were definitely ahead in computational physics, other parts of condensed matter physics like sophisticated materials science, and in string theory. You don't understand what a beautiful thing Soviet physics is, it is like the lost Greek science of the Hellenistic period. It's a pity it is gone, looking at it makes you cry."

"You can assert all you like, but the unequalled contributions of Russia to physics are mostly freely downloadable online today, and you just make yourself look foolish. There is no dispute that the best physics papers of the 1970s and 1980s are Russian, this is true just by citation counting (SVZ and BPZ are some of the heaviest cited papers of the era, along with the American Weinberg paper for the standard model). The Nobel committee is not my problem, they have been out of touch for decades. That's why the Dirac medal was established, and if you look at the Dirac medalists, the Russians are fairly recognized (and Europeans too, especially Italians, who are also regularly slighted by the Swedes)."

He also has a Quora post on Soviet physicists ( ).

Optical computing, etc. can be read about from NIE reports on the FOIA website:

There's this massive dual-language Russian/English "encyclopedia" called "Russia's Arms and Techologies", especially the volume on optoelectronics ( ):

DJVU files are available on the net, but I forgot the links (I have them on my computer).

SPIE has a book on Soviet optical engineering ( ). Haven't completely read it yet.

If you read, there are good articles there by William T. Lee of the CIA/DIA, and he was planning to write this huge treatise "How the Cold War was Lost and Won" but then he died of cancer. He says that Soviet stuff was mostly guided by an early lag in solid-state electronics (widening by the 1960s), and that sounds right. Their initial technology base was inferior, but later they compensated for it by going in a roundabout way. Soviets were ahead in semiconductor heterostructures and liquid phase epitaxy ( ), and probably metal matrix composites. On the other hand they had a better "mathematical base", this is reflected in the way they (Keldysh, et al.) solved the flutter problem in WW2 better than others did. "Stealth" via RAM coating originated in Ufimslev's method for analyzing the radar cross section (see ). There is the well-known work on neural nets (say used in the "Buran" space shuttle for automatic landing and navigation). They also managed to hit a ballistic missile directly with a missile in the 1960s (the USA only did this in 2004).

As for the overall "direction" of Soviet mathematics, the single best book is by La Salle and Lefschetz (, which is a bit dated but does identify their "direction" -- not such a big emphasis on algebraic topology or algebraic geometry, but then Novikov and others changed this trend later on. A more recent one is "Mathematical Events of the XX Century" by V.I. Arnold ( ). For books on Soviet math as applied to economic planning, there are the books by Zauberman especially "Mathematical Theory in Soviet Planning", "Aspects of Planometrics".

There's an interesting new book on the Soviet internet, including more information on Glushkov's contributions and OGAS (though unfortunately not about DISPLAN, which was exclusively used in the Soviet military industry):

The gist of it being that Soviets were more chaotic and decentralized, while the Americans were more centralized. (Funny; Alec Nove characterized the Soviet military industry as capitalist with the government being the sole consumer.) This is a common theme: the American infrastructure (with Bell Labs) was more centralized than the Soviet one, as revealed by RAND analyst R. W. Campbell in this book:

There are interesting books on highly secretive Soviet projects. They include "The Universe Below" by William J. Broad (on deep sea submersibles and trawlers), "Cassidy's Run" by David Wise on chemical weapons and the super nerve gas, and "Stalking the Red Bear" by Sasgen. If I remember correctly, Soviets opened 66 "secret cities" or Naukograds after WW2, one of them was Akademgorodok:

Some others were linked with the Soviet biological weapons program, and apart from Alibek's classic "Biohazard" ( ) there is a recent study of this:


Total Posts: 370
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Posted: 2016-06-22 18:39
Ron Maimon is arguably one of the most interesting people alive today.

Unfortunately, he manages to find himself banned from every single forum he participates in.


Total Posts: 422
Joined: Jun 2005
Posted: 2016-06-25 01:58
If you want to cover everything in Soviet time you must start with Luzin (Лузин). His mathematical descendants count for thousands...

Genealogy Luzin

Wiki describes many stories about him and his top-10 students - incl. Kolmogorov, Pontrjagin, Aleksandrov, Keldysh, Novikov etc

His mathematical school was a unprecedented mathematicians making machine.


Total Posts: 3
Joined: Jun 2016
Posted: 2016-06-26 21:27
GaAs solar cells were used in the Soviet "Venera" mission (where they transmitted signals from the surface of Venus, and were the only ones to do so), and also heterojunction cells were used in the "Mir" space station. The Lunokhod rover also managed to set records for travelling the most distances on the Moon. V.V. Beletsky is a good source for spacecraft tether systems, and he has a good pop science book "Essays on the Motion of Celestial Bodies" ( ).

KAM (Kolmogorov-Arnold-Moser) theory is used for finding fuel-efficient orbits in spaceflight, and one example of this is Belbruno's use of KAM theory to recover the Japanese spacecraft Hiten that was stranded without enough fuel ( ). There is also a paper on the lunar capture problem by Qi and Xu ( ).

Soviet military art in the old DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) website (see the galleries under "collections"):

These were used in the old series "Soviet Military Power" (partly outdated), available on

Declassified CIA studies of the Typhoon submarine and WIG craft:

This is a general NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) study, "The Future of Soviet Science":

This is a much older study, in 1959:

A good technical report on Soviet optoelectronics (includes information on epitaxial growth techniques):

Here's a short excerpt from Sasgen's book that I mentioned in the previous post:

"Paradoxically, despite their lagging behind the United States in sonar, quieting, and other technologies vital to submarine performance (problems with steam generators and deadly radiation leaks took them years to solve), the Soviets made impressive advances. On the high end of the scale, they were ahead of the United States in areas of communications, metallurgy, and reactor and hull design. For exampe, they built a submarine capable of diving to more than three thousand feet, a depth no U.S. combat submarine has ever reached. Yet on the low end, they couldn't solve problems with construction and maintenance."

I guess he's referring to the fact that submarine noise can come from places like the rotating machinery and the propellers. He or some other source mentions the fact that US submarines were "quieter" primarily because of Japanese milling machines used to produce the propellers. Soviets did make important advances in underwater acoustics and quieting throughout the decades, and developed features like hydrodynamic control around a submarine: these are detailed in Godin and Palmer ( ), and Polmar's books on submarines ( ).

Another good source (apart from "Cassidy's Run" is Goliszek's "In the Name of Science" ( ), and here is an excerpt, on the result of American disinformation campaigns similar to SDI:

"Following World War II, both the United States and the Soviet Union used German and Japanese research to improve their own chemical weapons programs. However, in an effort to disrupt the Soviet program, the United States began a disinformation campaign to convince the Kremlin that it had achieved far greater chemical weapons successes than it really had, especially in developing a super nerve gas called GJ. Rather than disrupting it, the deception produced the opposite effect.

The Soviet Union's intense efforts to keep up with the West led to the development of several new agents that were not technically banned by the CWC because they were binary (benign when kept separate but lethal when combined). While denouncing U.S. research on binary chemicals, the Soviets were pouring vast resources into developing their own. The agents went by the code names Substance 33, A-230, A-232, A-234, Novichok 5, and Novichok 7. Most of them were at least as toxic as the nerve agent VX and some purportedly ten times as toxic. For instance, A-232 is so lethal that a microscopic amount can kill a person. Vladimir Uglev, the Russian scientist who personally developed A-232, revealed its existence in an interview with the magazine *Novoye Vremya* in 1994 and admitted that it was specifically developed to circumvent the CWC."

Other good sources on "Novichok" and bioweapons include old articles by Polmar, Garthoff and others in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. One of them is the article "Polyakov's Run", still available in the Wayback Machine ( ).


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Posted: 2016-06-26 21:29
To get an idea of how limited Western knowledge (including intelligence agencies) was of Soviet high technology sectors, one is advised to read: "On Thermonuclear War" by Herman Kahn, the Yale study "The Technological Level of Soviet Industry" (1977), and RAND studies by A.J. Alexander (these are commonly cited, say by Holloway's article in the Yale study), and finally Garthoff's treatise "Detente and Confrontation" which is based on disinformation like the "Great Soviet Encyclopedia". Also there is the most comprehensive NIE study, declassified here (this also double-counts some American leads, that heavily overlap with microelectronics):

These huge gaps were not rectified by subsequent historians, since historians still depend on those old outdated sources (including older NIE studies). For example, Odom's "The Collapse of the Soviet Military" is filled with claims of alleged Soviets lags in highly complex technology areas, like heavy lift vehicles and such.

Broader studies on entire sectors would include: Gunston's book "The Osprey Encyclopedia of Russian Aircraft", Norman Polmar's books on submarines mentioned above, Godin and Palmer, the book "History of Computing Devices in Russia" by Trogemann, Ernt and Nitussov on Russian military computing architectures ( ), the 7-volume "Russia's Arms Catalog" which was reviewed favorably by Polmar in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists ( ), and Galushkin's book on neural nets ( ). Neural net computers were used for automatic navigation systems in "Buran" and other spacecraft. The USNI database is the best all-around source for weapons systems if you can get access to it, and is cited by Friedman and Friedman's "The Future of War" in the chapter on Soviet anti-ship missiles. On Soviet advances in materials there is the Springer series "Soviet Advanced Composites Technology" ( ) , "Metal and Ceramic Based Composites" by Mileiko, and "Titanium Alloys" by Moiseyev. On Soviet optimization you have (apart from Zauberman) Elliot R. Leiberman's old study ( ), that cites Ilya Sobol's work on quasi-Monte Carlo methods, and also mentions Glushkov's DISPLAN. The Soviet journal "Cybernetics and Systems Analysis" is available in Springer, and key articles are by Glushkov ( ), Mikhalevich, Ermoliev, Sergienko, and others. There is Polyak's article "History of Mathematical Programming in the USSR" ( ). Another good source on Soviet computing is Boris Babaian ( ). For more aerospace material, Alexander Nebylov has information including WIG craft ( ). For the space program many sources are available, including Brian Harvey, Hendrickx (on Energia-Buran), Asif Siddiqi, Martin Turner.

There are some people who are descendants of Soviet work, like Alexander A. Stepanov ( ) ( ). Despite the lag in traditional microelectronics, Soviets had advanced results in submicron lithography based on optics, including the work of M.A. Kumakhov ( ).

There are also random unique Soviet projects, like the "Ruza" phased-array antenna which was used for space tracking. Information on this is in the book "History of Wireless" ( ).
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