A Family in History

“My grandfather was the biggest Communist in America,” he said, “and I became the biggest capitalist in Russia.”

.. Bill Browder created his hedge fund, Hermitage, in 1996. The Kremlin turned on him hard in 2005, declaring him persona non grata. He had been a thorn in the side of Putin’s oligarchs.

In 2008, the authorities arrested Browder’s fearless and whistleblowing lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky — and tortured him to death.

.. I read an obituary of Felix Browder, Bill’s father. I then realized why Bill had asked me to be more specific when I asked, “Any relation?” Felix Browder was one of the greatest mathematicians in the world. (I don’t know from mathematicians.) He was, for example, chairman of the math department at Chicago.

Earl Browder had two more children, two more sons: Andrew and William. The former became the

  • chairman of the math department at Brown; the latter became
  • chairman of the department at Princeton. And there’s more Browder talent where that came from.

.. He was named after Shakespeare, having been born on the 400th anniversary of the writer’s birth (April 23, 1964).

.. Andrew’s daughter Laura, a professor at the University of Richmond, discovered something in the KGB archives: The dear nanny had been a spy, charged with keeping tabs on Earl. Of course.

.. Earl coined the famous (or infamous) slogan “Communism is 20th-century Americanism.” He ran for president in 1936, getting some 80,000 votes.

.. Communists in America were in particularly bad odor. In early ’41, the U.S. government sent Browder to prison on technicalities: passport fraud. But that summer, Hitler double-crossed Stalin, and the United States would soon be allies with Uncle Joe.

.. FDR commuted Browder’s sentence as a goodwill gesture.

.. After the war, Browder got on the wrong side of Moscow and was expelled from the American party. He died in 1973, having spent his last years with his son Bill in Princeton

.. Raisa, a Russian mother, and a mother of three sons. A Russian-Jewish mother at that

.. Felix entered MIT at 16. He had his bachelor’s degree in two years. By 20, he had his Ph.D. from Princeton.

.. One of his undergraduate professors testified that Felix was not a party member — and, moreover, that Felix had been the best math student in the history of MIT

.. Bill Browder affirms that his father was not a Communist. Rather, he was “a hard-core leftist professor,” like all the others. “I never met one who wasn’t,” says Bill.

.. Felix was indeed drafted into the Army. Not trusted with sensitive work, he spent two years pumping gas at Fort Bragg.

.. Felix worked on his math and, for the first and only time in his life, was around regular folks.

.. Felix and his wife Eva had another child besides Bill: their son Tom. He entered the University of Chicago at 15. Today, he is a leading particle physicist, dividing his time between Hawaii and Japan, searching for the origin of the universe.
.. Bill was a rebellious kid, and he figured out how to rebel against a family of leftists: become a capitalist. He majored in economics at Chicago, whose department was a den of free-marketeers.

.. In an act of shocking gall, the Russian state is investigating Browder for the murder of Magnitsky — and three other men. Thus do the murderers finger the champion of the murdered. Putin’s predecessors in the KGB would grin in admiration.

.. He could have walked away, tending his millions, but instead he has put himself in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful and ruthless governments on earth.