About Grigorii Samuilovich Landsberg

  • Vitaly L. Ginzburg


Within the last ten to fifteen years, the appearance of collections of reminiscences about well-known people who have passed away has become almost a rule. In the scientific community, the term ‘well-known’ or ‘prominent’ is perceived (this is also almost a rule) as a bureaucratic phrase: if one is an academician or at least a corresponding member of the Academy, one is ‘prominent’ and worthy of a book of reminiscences. Although the titles correlate with some merits, this correlation is not so close. Many people were not elected academicians, although in their scientific results and their level they were not lower, and sometimes even higher, than many of those elected. At the same time, it is much more difficult to publish reminiscences about a man without titles than about an academician. According to the statutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences (item 16), “Scientists who have enriched science with works of first-rate scientific value are to be elected full members of the USSR Academy of Sciences (academicians).” The scientific community is well aware of the fact that this requirement is purely symbolic and is even sometimes violated in a most disgraceful way. But this is a different point. I would only like to note here, first, that the reminiscences published by Nauka appear as a result of selection. It is clearly impossible to publish reminiscences about all well-known people, so selection is inevitable; perhaps it consists in the publication of biographies of Academy members. For example, the Royal Society of London and the US National Academy of Sciences issue rather extensive biographies of their deceased members and foreign members. We have no such rule, and therefore biographies are sometimes replaced by collections of reminiscences, which are generally even more interesting. Unfortunately (and this is my second point), collections of reminiscences are customarily rather tendentious, and this is natural because when speaking about a deceased person, one follows the ancient rule, “aut bene, aut nihil”. Another shortcoming of a number of collections of reminiscences is the inanity of some papers included. This point became clear to me from an example of reminiscences about one really well-known physicist. Not yet having understood what the problem was, I asked the compiler of the book, “Why have you included papers that contain nothing but twaddle?” He replied, “You know how difficult it was to press those papers out of the authors.” Everything became clear, the more so as they were most often (not always, though) high-ranking authors. I drew some conclusions from that, which I follow myself and advise others to follow. First, compilers of collections of reminiscences should not press out anything. The editorial board invites authors to write reminiscences and then may remind them of the coming deadline date. And that is all: those who want to write will write, and no pressing is admissible.1 Second, for myself, I have positively decided to write reminiscences only when I wish to and consider it my duty, and not because I am asked to. Compilers of such collections (even if they are close relatives of the ‘subject’ of the reminiscences) should not, when refused, get offended, for such a refusal is normally nonmalignant — one simply does not remember anything interesting or does not want to hide something that would be irrelevant in ‘reminiscences’ of the above-mentioned type.


Physics Department Editorial Board USSR Academy Deceased Person Open Meeting 
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  1. 6.
    R. S. Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982.Google Scholar
  2. V. I. Arnold, Huygens and Barrow, Newton and Hooke, Nauka, Moscow, 1989.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vitaly L. Ginzburg
    • 1
  1. 1.P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of SciencesMoscowRussia

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