Zhores Medvedev

Zhores Aleksandrovich Medvedev (Russian: Жоре́с Алекса́ндрович Медве́дев; 14 November 1925 – 15 November 2018) was a Russian agronomist, biologist, historian and dissident. His twin brother is the historian Roy Medvedev.

Zhores Medvedev
Native name
Жорес Александрович Медведев
Zhores Aleksandrovich Medvedev

(1925-11-14)14 November 1925
Died15 November 2018(2018-11-15) (aged 93)
Alma materRussian State Agricultural University
Known forHuman rights activism and participation in dissident movement in the Soviet Union
Scientific career
FieldsAgronomy, biology, gerontology


Early life and education

Zhores Medvedev and his twin brother Roy were born on 14 November 1925 in Tbilisi, Transcaucasian SFSR, USSR. Their mother Yulia (nee Reiman), was a cellist, and their father, Alexander Medvedev, was a philosopher in a military academy in Leningrad.[1] Zhores, named after French socialist leader Jean Jaurès (his twin was named after Indian revolutionary M. N. Roy),[1] was drafted into the Red Army in 1943, but was soon discharged after being seriously wounded in a battle on the Taman Peninsula.[2] He then began his studies in biology at the Timiryazev Agricultural Academy in Moscow.[2] In December 1950, Zhores was awarded a PhD degree for his research into sexual processes in plants.

Biology research in the USSR

He became a junior research scientist in the Agrochemistry and Biochemistry Department at Timiryazev Academy and he was promoted to senior research scientist in 1954 and remained at the academy until 1963. Beginning in 1952, Medvedev had focused his attention on the problems of aging, concentrating on the turnover of proteins and nucleic acids. In 1961, he published the first paper suggesting that aging is the result of an accumulation of errors in the synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids. In 1962, Medvedev wrote his book on the history of Soviet genetics, which passed an editorial review but was withheld by state censors.[2] It was later published in the United States in 1969 as The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko.

In 1963, Medvedev moved to Obninsk to the Institute of Medical Radiology, where he was appointed head of the molecular radiobiology laboratory. He published two books, Protein Biosynthesis and Problems of Heredity Development and Ageing[3] and Molecular Mechanisms of Development.[lower-alpha 1]

Dissident writings

Medvedev was dismissed from his position in 1969. Between 1968 and 1970, Medvedev wrote two more books: International Cooperation of Scientists and National Frontiers [4] and Secrecy of Correspondence is Guaranteed by Law (about postal censorship in the USSR). These works were widely circulated in the USSR among scientists, along with a copy of his 1962 history of Soviet genetics (which had been published in Grani, a Russian journal published outside the USSR), and this activity resulted in Medvedev's arrest and forced detention in the Kaluga psychiatric hospital in May 1970. This action, however, produced many protests from scientists (academics Andrei Sakharov, Pyotr Kapitsa, Igor Tamm, Vladimir Engelgardt, Boris Astaurov,[5] Nikolai Semyonov, and others) and writers (including Solzhenitsyn, Tvardovsky, Vladimir Tendryakov, Vladimir Dudintsev), which resulted in Medvedev's release (this experience was reflected in Zhores and Roy Medvedev's book A Question of Madness[lower-alpha 2]).

In 1971, Medvedev was given the job of Senior scientist of the Institute of Physiology and Biochemistry of Farm Animals in Borovsk, in the Kaluga region.


In 1972, Medvedev was invited for one year's research by the National Institute for Medical Research in London at its new Genetic Division. Afterward, he stayed in London and continued to write.

Publication of information about the Kyshtym disaster

In 1977, Medvedev published Hazards of Nuclear Power, which mentioned the Kyshtym nuclear disaster in passing. At the time, the disaster was essentially unknown, and his work was dismissed as baseless propaganda even by his Western colleagues.[2] Medvedev responded by publishing Soviet Science in 1978, which assembled evidence from Soviet publications that taken together comprised conclusive evidence of the disaster's occurrence. He followed this with the book The Nuclear Disaster in the Urals in 1979, and a further critique The Legacy of Chernobyl (1990), which connected the two disasters as being a product of the same attitudes toward science and engineering in the USSR.[2]

Further work

In London, Medvedev continued to edit the samizdat journal XX Century jointly with his brother Roy. The two also coauthored Khrushchev: The Years in Power (1978) and several other books, the last one The Unknown Stalin (2007).

He remained in London and worked as Senior Research Scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research until his retirement in 1991.

Medvedev died in London on 15 November 2018, one day after his 93rd birthday, with his family by his side.[6][7]


Medvedev published about 170 research papers and reviews, about sixty of them during his time in London. In 1973 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto.[8] He received the Aging Research Award from the United States Association of Biogerontology in 1984 and the Rene Schubert Prize in Gerontology in 1985.

According to Michael Gordin, a professor of History at Princeton University, Medvedev provided critiques of the Soviet Union that were "powerful, persuasive and principled", with Medvedev being "sympathetic to the dreams of the [Russian] Revolution," but opposed to the "cronyism and Stalinism [that] had contaminated the early promise."[2]


  1. 1966; English translation 1968, Plenum Press, New York
  2. Macmillan in London in 1971


    1. Steele, Jonathan (23 November 2018), "Zhores Medvedev obituary", The Guardian.
    2. Gordin, Michael D (6 February 2019). "Zhores Medvedev and the battle for truth in Soviet science". Aeon. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
    3. 1963; English translation 1965 Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh
    4. "Zhores A. Medvedev, Mezhdunarodnoe sotrudnichestvo uchenykh i natsional 'nye granitsy 1969-1970". National Library of Medicine.
    5. "World: Protesting Spiritual Murder". Time. 29 June 1970. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
    6. "В Лондоне умер Жорес Медведев". Novye Izvestia. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
    7. "Ушёл из жизни Жорес Медведев". IA Red Spring. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
    8. "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 9, 2012.


    • Protein Biosynthesis and Problems of Heredity, Development and Ageing. New York: Plenum Press, 1966. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd Ltd, 1966
    • Unknown Stalin: His Life, Death, and Legacy (with Roy Medvedev, Ellen Dahrendorf - Translator) (Overlook Press, 2005), ISBN 1-58567-644-6
    • Legacy of Chernobyl (W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 1992), ISBN 0-393-30814-6
    • Soviet Agriculture (W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 1988), ISBN 0-393-02472-5
    • Gorbachev (W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 1987), ISBN 0-393-30408-6
    • Andropov (W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 1983), ISBN 0-393-01791-5
    • Nuclear Disaster in the Urals (1980), ISBN 0-394-74445-4
    • Gorbachev (1986), ISBN 0-631-14782-9
    • Molecular-Genetic Mechanisms of Development (1970), ISBN 0-306-30403-1
    • Medvedev Papers: Fruitful Meetings between Scientists of the World (1971), ISBN 0-333-12520-7
    • Ten Years after Ivan Denisovich (1974), ISBN 0-394-71112-2
    • Hazards of Nuclear Power (with Alan Roberts) (1977), ISBN 0-85124-211-1
    • Secrecy of Correspondence Is Guaranteed by Law (1975), ISBN 0-85124-128-X
    • Soviet Science (1978), ISBN 0-393-06435-2
    • Stalin and the Jewish Question: New Analysis (2003, in Russian), ISBN 5-7712-0251-7
    • Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov: Two Prophets (with Roy Medvedev) (2004, in Russian) ISBN 5-94117-065-3
    • The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko (translated by I. M. Lerner) Columbia University Press (1969), ISBN 0-231-03183-1
    • Medvedev Papers: The Plight Of Soviet Science, ISBN 3-331-25207-7
    • A Question Of Madness (with Roy Medvedev), ISBN 0-14-003783-7
    • Nuclear Disaster In The Urals (trans. George Saunders), ISBN 0-207-95896-3
    • Khrushchev: The Years In Power (with Roy Medvedev), ISBN 0-8357-0154-9
    • National Frontiers / International Scientific Cooperation (Medvedev Papers), Spokesman Books, 1975, ISBN 0-85124-127-1
    • Nutrition and Longevity (2011, in Russian), publ. "Vremya" Moscow, ISBN 978-5-9691-0513-3
    • Nutrition and Longevity (in Russian), 2007, ISBN 978-5-7712-0380-5
    • Polonium in London (in Russian), 2008, Molodaya Gvardia, Moscow:ISBN 978-5-235-03160-9


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