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Science under Socialism

Science under Socialism

East Germany in Comparative Perspective

Edited by Kristie Macrakis and Dieter Hoffmann

ISBN 9780674794771

Publication date: 06/10/1999

Taking advantage of documents never before available from the archives of the East German Communist Party and the Ministry for State Security, and drawing on interviews with, among others, the legendary spy chief Markus Wolf and members of the East German Politburo, Science under Socialism is the first book to examine the role of science and technology in the former German Democratic Republic. The result is a multi-layered analysis of the scientific enterprise that provides a fascinating glimpse into what it took to construct a new socialist state and the role science and technology played in it.

The book is organized around general policy issues, institutions, disciplines, and biographies. An international cast of contributors (Americans, former East Germans, and former West Germans) take the reader on a journey from the view of science policymakers, to the construction of "socialist" institutions for science, to the role of espionage in technology transfer, to the social and political context of the chemical industry, engineers, nuclear power, biology, computers, and finally the career trajectories of scientists through the vicissitudes of twentieth-century German history.

By providing a historical understanding of the scientific enterprise in East Germany, Science under Socialism also offers the fullest account we have of the effect of state socialism on the development of science.


  • The computer industry is one of the fields whose development in the GDR is analyzed in the contributions to Science under Socialism...The contributors focus on the period from the end of World War II through the late 1960s. We learn many details. For example, a major factor in the relative decline of East Germany's chemical industry, despite party slogans like "chemistry yields bread, wealth, beauty," was the delay in switching input materials from coal to petroleum...[It] makes for interesting reading...most fascinating where [it] report[s] facts precisely, compare[s] developments, and reveal[s] connections...Much effort is made, not least by Macrakis, to be fair...[however] no reader will escape the conclusion that this political system--with the way it ran science and the economy and the way it wasted human resources--is bound to fail when high technology becomes a necessity.

    —Joachim Sauer, Science


  • Kristie Macrakis is Professor in the School of History, Technology & Society at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • Dieter Hoffmann is a research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin.

Book Details

  • 448 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press