Salvador Luria

Salvador Luria

An Immigrant Biologist in Cold War America

By Rena Selya

The life of Nobel-winning biologist Salvador Luria, whose passion for science was equaled by his commitment to political engagement in Cold War America.





The life of Nobel-winning biologist Salvador Luria, whose passion for science was equaled by his commitment to political engagement in Cold War America.

Blacklisted from federal funding review panels but awarded a Nobel Prize for his research on bacteriophage, biologist Salvador Luria (1912–1991) was as much an activist as a scientist. In this first full-length biography of Luria, Rena Selya draws on extensive archival research; interviews with Luria's family, colleagues, and students; and FBI documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to create a compelling portrait of a man committed to both science and society.

In addition to his work with viruses and bacteria in the 1940s, Luria broke new ground in molecular biology and cancer research from the 1950s to the 1980s and was a leader in calling for scientists to accept an educational and advisory responsibility to the public. In return, he believed, the public should rely on science to strengthen social and political institutions.

Luria was born in Italy, where the Fascists came to power when he was ten. He left Italy for France due to the antisemetic Laws of 1938, and then fled as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe, making his way to the United States. Once an American citizen, Luria became a grassroots activist on behalf of civil rights, labor representation, nuclear disarmament, and American military disengagement from the Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Luria joined the MIT faculty in 1960 and was the founding director of the Center for Cancer Research. Throughout his life he remained as passionate about his engagement with political issues as about his science, and continued to fight for peace and freedom until his death.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262046466 248 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 11


  • "The remarkable, previously untold story of legendary scientist Salvador Luria as a public citizen committed to racial justice, worker equity, freedom of expression, and ending the Vietnam War—while transforming biological science and MIT.”

    Phillip A. Sharp

    Institute Professor and Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • "A compelling book that brings Luria to life as a participant in the challenging political and scientific world of the late twentieth century. It presents him in all his complexity: as an activist of unswerving political conscience, an originator of the field of molecular biology, and a far-seeing institution builder.”

    David Baltimore

    President Emeritus and Judge Shirley Hufstedler Professor of Biology, California Institute of Technology

  • “A harrowing and inspiring account of how one immigrant scientist maintained an activist identity over a career spanning Red Scares, blacklists, and the Vietnam War. Essential reading on the intersection of science and politics.”

    Audra J. Wolfe

    author of Freedom's Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science