Crowther James Gerald

James Gerald Crowther

A pioneering science journalist, he was born in 1899. He had begun to study maths and physics at university but left in 1919 after for health reasons only a term. He joined the Communist Party, secretly, in 1923. After a period teaching, he sold science textbooks before becoming, at first, a part time journalist. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was a frequent visitor to the Soviet Union. It was particularly his writing about technological advances there that brought his talents to attention.

Thus, from 1928 until the beginning of the Second World War, he wrote on science for the Manchester Guardian, practically inventing the concept of such journalism. Crowther obtained a very high level of access to Soviet officialdom, acting as a bridge to the international scientific community and this flowed into his becoming closely associated with developments at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in the 1930s. Under Ernest Rutherford, this was at the cutting edge of research into the structure of the atom.

The disappearance of a close Soviet colleague during the purges of the Thirties affected him; his membership of the Party is uncertain from 1937 yet, although disillusioned with the Stalin regime, he retained his Marxist principles. He preserved a warm collaboration with noted Marxist scientists, J D Bernal and J B S Haldane. In the latter part of the wartime period, he went on to become the director of science for the British Council and was involved in the setting up of UNESCO. In the post-war period, until his death in 1983, he completed his life’s work of almost 40 popular science books.

Source: Morning Star 23rd July 2005

Howard Coster (1885–1959), portrait of James Gerald Crowther (1899–1973), half-plate film negative, 1936; source: © National Portrait Gallery, London


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