Benjamin Nathans writes:
Bergman wants to know how Sakharov became a dissident. More than that, he is eager to demonstrate that Sakharov, like Shragin, never believed in Communism, that the ‘seeds of future dissidence’ were there from the beginning. Indeed, he is impatient for those seeds to blossom. The early chapters of the biography repeatedly glance ahead, informing readers that a certain essay by the young Sakharov was a ‘harbinger of things to come’ and offering previews of his subsequent dissident activities even though ‘all this … was far in the future.’ When we come to Chapter 9, ‘A Dissident at Last’, Bergman’s relief is palpable. His central argument, by contrast, is backward-looking: the seeds of dissent were present in Sakharov (who was born in 1921) because the traditions of the pre-1917 Russian intelligentsia were transmitted to him intact. The sense of alienation from a sordid reality, the ‘ethos of “moral wholeness” requiring the application of moral principle to every aspect of life’, the ‘belief in the perfectibility of humanity’: all these qualities of the ancien régime intelligentsia came to Sakharov via his family and his youthful immersion in the classics of Russian literature. Family was a ‘cocoon’, Bergman says, ‘protecting him … from the larger world’.