Michael Gordin

Professor of History, Associated Faculty, Slavic
Department of History
Office Phone
305 Dickinson Hall

Michael Gordin specializes in the history of the modern physical sciences and Russian, European, and American history. He came to Princeton in 2003 after earning his A.B. (1996) and his Ph.D. (2001) from Harvard University, and serving a term at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He has published articles on a variety of topics, such as the introduction of science into Russia in the early 18th century, the history of biological warfare in the late Soviet period, the relations between Russian literature and science, as well as a series of studies on the life and chemistry of Dmitrii I. Mendeleev, formulator of the periodic system of chemical elements. His first book is a cultural history of Mendeleev in the context of Imperial St. Petersburg, A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table(link is external) (Basic Books, 2004). He has also worked extensively in the early history of nuclear weapons, and is the author of Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War(link is external) (Princeton, 2007), a history of the atomic bombings of Japan during World War II, and an international history of nuclear intelligence, Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly(link is external) (FSG, 2009), as well as co-editor (with G. John Ikenberry) of The Age of Hiroshima(link is external) (Princeton, 2020). In 2012, University of Chicago Press published his history of the controversies surrounding the boundary between science and pseudoscience focusing on the career of Immanuel Velikovsky, entitled The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe(link is external), and in 2013, the press also released How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality(link is external), which he co-authored with Lorraine Daston, Paul Erickson, Thomas Sturm, Rebecca Lemov, and Judy Klein. In 2015 University of Chicago Press and Profile Books published his Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before and After Global English(link is external), a history of modern science from the point of view of the languages in which science has been conducted. In 2020 he published Einstein in Bohemia(link is external) (Princeton), which follows the intertwined paths of Albert Einstein and the city of Prague (where he taught during 1911-1912) across the twentieth century. His most recent book, On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience(link is external) (Oxford, 2021), uses the history and philosophy of "pseudoscience" to explore some features of how modern science works. He has also co-edited the four-volume Routledge History of the Modern Physical Sciences (2001), with Peter Galison and David Kaiser, Intelligentsia Science: The Russian Century, 1860-1960(link is external) (2008), with Karl Hall and Alexei Kojevnikov, and Utopia/Dystopia: Conditions of Historical Possibility(link is external) (Princeton, 2010), with Helen Tilley and Gyan Prakash. In 2013-2014, he served as the inaugural director of the Fung Global Fellows Program. In 2011 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and was named a Guggenheim Fellow.

For more information, and access to select publications, please visit his personal website(link is external).


Current Project: 

Professor Gordin is currently working on a history of the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union on science inside and outside of Russia. He maintains an abiding interest in the history of constructed languages.

Teaching Interests: 

Professor Gordin teaches lecture courses in the history of modern science from 1700 to 1970 (History 292) and the history of contemporary science from 1970 to the present (History 391). He teaches undergraduate seminars on the history of pseudoscience, nuclear history, and the Soviet science system, and graduate seminars on global science and on biography. With Professor Joshua T. Katz (Department of Classics), he also taught a course on "Imagined Languages," covering a wide range of topics in the history of constructed, reconstructed, revived, and other languages.