I was once asked whether it was easy to live with a genius. The question was unexpected for me. I simply loved Andrei Sakharov, although I understood, of course, that I was the companion of a man of extraordinary intellectual courage, a good and honest man, who was definite and unerring in his moral decisions and who lived according to them.
Although Sakharov was included in TIME's list of the 100 outstanding people of the 20th century, few people now remember his name, and even fewer know of his accomplishments in physics and in public life.
So, a reminder: Sakharov was born in 1921 in Moscow, in a country devastated by World War I and the Russian civil war. His generation lived through Stalin's Great Terror and World War II. Yet despite the fear and turmoil, he grew up a free man and never joined the Communist Party. As a graduate student he worked alongside the eminent physicist Igor Tamm, and in 1948 he was drafted into the group assigned to develop a thermonuclear bomb.
His work was key to the group's success in testing the first Soviet thermonuclear device in 1953. U.S.-U.S.S.R. parity in thermonuclear weapons was necessary to prevent a catastrophic war, he believed, but he spoke out against the environmental damage caused by nuclear test programs. Sakharov also pioneered the peaceful use of thermonuclear energy, which he hoped would substantially reduce the world's dependence on oil and gas.
Sakharov acquired a different renown in 1968 with his famous essay "Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom." It circulated in samizdat, and the author found himself labeled a dissident. In his 1975 Nobel lecture, he expressed his main credo: "Peace, progress, human rights these three goals are indissolubly linked." Five years later, he spoke out against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and was sent into internal exile, where he remained until 1986, when Mikhail Gorbachev proposed his return to Moscow. In 1989 he was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies.
Today Sakharov's words ring as true as ever. He wrote: "Mankind is threatened by the decline of morality of persons and states, demonstrated in the disintegration of the fundamental ideals of law and justice, in consumer egotism, the growth of crime, and the new international catastrophe of nationalist and political terrorism." Are we ready now to heed his warning?