Popular Science Literature

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Popular Science Literature


works about science and scientists written for nonspecialists.

The transformation of science into a productive force and its accelerated development, growing differentiation and integration, and social character have attracted readers of different ages and educational backgrounds to popular science literature. In the USSR, popular science literature is published both for highly skilled specialists in different or related fields and for the general public, including adolescents and children.

Popular science literature includes works dealing with the foundations and individual problems of the basic and applied sciences, biographies of scientists, and descriptions of journeys; these works are written in various styles. In popular science literature, science and technology are examined from a historical point of view, in their interrelation and development, “not as a repository of finished discoveries and inventions” but as an arena of struggle “where a specific living human being overcomes the resistance of material and tradition” (M. Gorky, Sobr. soch., vol. 27, 1953, p. 108).

The best popular works disseminate the latest achievements of science in a form that is easily understandable for its intended audience. The first popular works on science written in Europe, Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things and M. V. Lomonosov’s Letter on the Use of Glass, were written in verse. M. Faraday’s A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle and K, A. Timiriazev’s The Life of the Plant arose from a series of conversations. Popular works written in the form of nature calendars, studies, essays, and “intellectual” adventures are also well known.

In Russia, the first printed popular works about science appeared in the first quarter of the 18th century. The first Russian journals, Primechaniia (Notes)—a supplement to Sankt-Peter-burgskie vedomosti (St. Petersburg News; 1728–42)—and Ezhemesiachnye sochineniia, k pol’ze i uveseleniiu sluzhashchie (Monthly Essays for Education and Entertainment; 1755–64), were essentially popular science works. Progressive Russian scientists and scholars, beginning with M. V. Lomonosov, were disseminators of science. I. M. Sechenov’s essay “Reflexes of the Brain”—a model of scientific literature written in a lucid, popular style—dealt a blow to idealism and mysticism. A. I. Herzen wrote brilliant models of prose popularizing philosophy and natural science for readers of different age groups. V. G. Belin-skii, N. A. Dobroliubov, and N. G. Chernyshevskii wrote about certain problems of popularization. In his article “The Realists,” D. I. Pisarev formulated the basic requirements for a popular expository style in scientific writing. The popularizing work of K. A. Timiriazev had a tremendous influence on the world view of an entire generation.

The scientific discoveries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought about an increased interest in scientific literature among a broad spectrum of readers. This stimulated the publication of popular science literature. F. F. Pavlenkov, who published The Library of Useful Knowledge, V. V. Lunkevich’s Popular Science Library, and the series Lives of Remarkable People (200 books) greatly contributed to the spread of scientific knowledge. Popular science books by Western European scientists, such as E. Haeckel’s The Riddle of the Universe and A. E. Brehm’s The Life of Animals, were published in Russia. The works of V. I. Lenin that were intended for the general reader, as well as his statements about the purpose of such works and the method of their presentation, were of great importance for the development of the theory of popular science literature.

After the October Revolution of 1917, the Communist Party assumed the responsibility for the systematic dissemination and popularization of science. In 1919, a popular science division, which published a number of general educational series for readers of various levels of training (“Science for All,” “Rudiments of Science,” “The Worker’s Bookshelf,” and “Nature Around Us”), was formed at Gosizdat (State Publishing House). In addition to the popular works of the classics of Russian science, the series included the best works of foreign popularizers such as C. Flammarion, J. H. Fabre, and J. Tyndall.

M. Gorky, the founder, organizer, and editor of many publications, promoted works that disseminated scientific knowledge and the advances of socialist construction. Such works included M. Il’in’s The Story of the Great Plan and Mountains and People and K. G. Paustovskii’s Kara-Bugaz. The publication of the series Lives of Remarkable People, first by the Magazine and Newspaper Association and later by Molodaia Gvardiia Publishing House, was a major contribution to the literature of popular biography. S. I. Vavilov, who supervised the publication of popular science literature in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and who himself wrote popular works, had a great impact on the popularization of science. Many works written by scientists, writers, and journalists, such as V. A. Obruchev, A. E. Fersman, la. I. Perel’man, O. N. Pisarzhevskii, B. S. Zhitkov, V. V. Bianki, I. A. Khalifman, V. I. Orlov, D. S. Danin, and la. K. Golovanov, greatly widened their readers’ knowledge of various phenomena in science.

Modern popular science literature in the USSR deals with the development and achievements of Soviet and foreign science and technology. It promotes the formation of a Marxist-Leninist outlook and gives the masses an opportunity to participate in the scientific and technological revolution and in the campaign to carry out the program for the construction of a communist society.

In 1972, in the USSR, 2,093 popular science books and pamphlets with a total printing of 66.5 million copies were published (as opposed to 1,145 titles with a total printing of 12.8 million in 1940). The yearbooks Nauka i chelovechestvo (Science and Mankind), Evrika, (Eureka), and Puti v neznaemoe (Journeys Into the Unknown), as well as many journals, are devoted to popularizing the achievements of modern science.

Outside the Soviet Union, I. Asimov, L. de Broglie, M. Gardner, A. Clarke, J. Cousteau, G. Seaborg, and T. Heyerdahl are particularly outstanding popularizers of scientific knowledge.


Lenin, V. I. “O zhurnale ’Svoboda.’” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. vol. 5, pp. 358–59.
Lenin, V. I. “O znachenii voinstvuiushchego materializma.” Ibid., vol. 45, p. 26.
Gorky, M. “O temakti.”Sobr. soch. v 30tt., vol. 27. Moscow, 1953. Pages 97–109.
Ivich, A. Poeziia nauki. Moscow, 1967.
Lazarevich, E. A. Iskusstvo populiarizatsii. Moscow, 1960.
Razgon, L. E. Volshebstvo populiarizatora [2nd ed.]. Moscow, 1966.
Razgon, L. E. Zhivoi golos nauki. Moscow, 1970.
Formuly i obrazy. Moscow, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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