Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Yakov Perelman made science fun to learn

Russia is known for its encouragement in scientific education. Especially during the Soviet era, children were taught of the value of learning science from a young age. Popular science books became a part of Russian, especially Soviet literature during the 20th century. Yakov Perelman was a pioneering author of popular science books. He became a famous name in Russia as well as overseas. His works have been published in many foreign languages.

Yakov Isidorovich Perelman was born on December 4, 1882, in the town of Bialystok (Byelostok) of the Russian Empire. (Today, this town belongs to Poland). In 1909, Perelman obtained a diploma from the St. Petersburg Forestry Institute. This was his highest educational qualification in paper. But, through his work, Perelman created several thousands of scholars around the world.

In 1913, a new book appeared in Russian book stores. Titled “Physics for Entertainment”, it was written in a style which justified its name. Entertaining and informative, it had many stories, anecdotes, diagrams and scientific explanations. It became an instant hit among the science students in the country. Perelman continued to update it in every subsequent edition until his death.

According to Perelman’s preface of the 11 th edition of the book which was published in 1936, “The main objective of Physics for Entertainment is to arouse the activity of scientific imagination.” All his books were written with that in mind.

Perelman wrote a number of popular science books, Arithmetics for Entertainment, Mechanics for Entertainment, Geometry for Entertainment, Astronomy for Entertainment, Figures for Fun and Mathematics can be Fun being a few. He wrote several books on interplanetary travel as well, when it was just a scientific prediction.

Furthermore, Perelman authored many Soviet text books and scientific magazines. He served as the editor of two magazines as well, namely, ‘Nature and People’ and ‘In the Workshop of Nature.’

With his work, Perelman set an example to popular science writers. Popular science became an integral part of scientific education in Soviet Union. Even though he dealt with serious scientific subjects, he wrote in a simple style. Therefore, his books had something for the beginners as well as the scholars.

Perelman inspired many beginners to study science and math. The famous mathematician Grigori Perelman is no relation of Yakov Perelman, but by coincidence, his father was also named Yakov Perelman. Grigori’s father once gifted him a copy of “Physics for Entertainment” which inspired him to study mathematics.

When German armies surrounded the city of Leningrad in late 1941, Yakov Perelman was among those who were trapped inside. He died in the city on March 16, 1942, becoming one of the thousands who died during the siege. If not for the war, Perelman might have lived a few years more and the world would have seen even more of his work.


  1. Sadly I haven't read him. But there is another soviet science book which inspired me. It is "Miracles on wheels: A book for inquiring minds" by Anatolii Markusha. I've read its Sinhala translation and loved it since. (ඉංජිනේරුවෙකු වීමට ඔබ කැමතිද? අනතෝලි මර්කුෂා)

    1. මගේ ළඟත් සිංහල ඉංග්‍රීසි පොත් දෙකම තියෙනවා.
      Pretty nicely written. Even though I never wanted to be an engineer, I read the book :)