The Final Biography of the Son of Akhmatova

December 28, 2013

Lev Gumilev is certainly a person who deserves an extensive biography. He was the son of famous Russian poets and had a long and extraordinary life. He left a remarkable scientific legacy, the meaning of which remains unappreciated. His theories did not conform to the status quo, being well ahead of their time.

He was an eccentric figure both in terms of his private life and his scientific thought. This biography by Sergei Belyakov is truly exhaustive and a definitive work. The author did not wish to concentrate only on a select aspects of Gumilev’s personality, deciding instead to include everything that concerned the Gumilev phenomenon in one book.

Consequently, the book turned out to be too ambitious, since few readers will be equally interested in Gumilev’s complicated relationship with his mother, his work and the description of his labor camp experience.

Sergey Belyakov continually blames his predecessors for not understanding the essence of ethnogenesis and criticizes the pseudo-disciples of Gumilev for their incompetence. Belyakov’s aim was to give Gumilev’s scientific legacy a fresh look, showing what its real value was. However, even though Gumilev’s ideas allow us to look at history from an alternative point of view and understand many things that would have otherwise been unclear, they do not change the general picture of the world.

Gumilev had become neither a Lobachevsky nor an Einstein of historical science. But his life provides tempting material for any biographer. Just imagine that Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse) would have been the son of Virginia Woolf and Rudyard Kipling and spent half his life in Guantanamo Bay. Wouldn't that be a story?!

Reviewed by Lev Danilkin

Translated by Janina Surowiec and Ivan Slade