I found it an absolute pleasure to read Loren Graham's new book, Lonely Ideas. As described in the product description, Graham asks a seemingly simple, but fundamental question that has been in the back of the minds of many of us who have been traveling to the former USSR for decades: Why is it that a country, historically so rich in intellectual, scientific and artistic talent can't seem to bring much to market? "How does one explain the pattern of impressive technological invention in Russia followed, again and again, by failure to develop and sustain that invention as a true innovation?"
"No other country in the world," Graham writes, "displays this pattern of intellectual and artistic excellence and technological weakness to the same degree as Russia."
In a simple, straightforward and conversational style, Graham examines a range of factors -- attitudinal, economic, legal, organizational, political and general societal issues, including corruption and crime -- that both impede innovation in Russia, and raise hopes for the future. As both a chemical engineer and Russian historian by training -- who has been traveling to, and working in Russia since the early 1960s -- he draws on his own and others' extensive academic research, including a wealth of innovative surveys and other sociological research carried out in both Russia and the US. But even more interesting are his own incisive personal observations from over 5 decades of discussions w/ friends, scientific colleagues and officials of all stripes, and from his own participation in US and Soviet/ Russian joint projects.
Graham correctly notes that ultimately, the problem is not a scientific or technological one, but a societal one. His book, then, ultimately becomes a fascinating journey not only through the world of science, technology and innovation, but through the heart of Russian society as a whole. It provides an important framework for understanding a wide array of issues that go well beyond questions of science and technology alone. And it raises new questions for further investigation and discussion. I highly recommend this clearheaded, easily readable, and ultimately profound book to specialists and non-specialists alike.