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I would like to re-read a book I first read about 40 years ago: I can no longer recall the title or the author, and my memory of the plot may be somewhat flawed, but perhaps it's close enough for someone to identify.

Irreconcilable differences in political systems have led the anarchists to settle the moon of the mother planet, inhabited by . The neighbors live in an uneasy truce, but there is little exchange between them. The anarchists have a hardscrabble existence but have learned to thrive in their environment. Their non-government is loosely led by a physicist, a born leader but a modest man who prefers his lab to any seat of power.

Some catastrophe that will destroy the mother planet is impending and only the physicist can save them. He makes the controversial decision to travel to the planet and help them. The bulk of the story is about his experiences on the planet.

I believe the author of this novel was a woman. Anyone know who she was and what the book is called?

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This sounds a lot like Ursula K. LeGuin's The Disposessed.

The Dispossessed Cover

You read it about 40 years ago - The Disposessed was released in 1974, so that's 40 years and you either read it soon after it came out or maybe you're rounding up.

Irreconcilable differences in political systems have led the anarchists to settle the moon of the mother planet.

From Wikipedia:

The story takes place on the fictional planet Urras and its habitable moon Anarres. In order to forestall an anarcho-syndicalist rebellion, the major Urrasti states gave the revolutionaries the right to live on Anarres, along with a guarantee of non-interference, approximately two hundred years before the events of The Dispossessed.4 Before this, Anarres had had no permanent settlements apart from some mining.

The anarchists have a hard-scrabble existence but have learned to thrive in their environment.

Again, Wikipedia:

However, in order to insure the survival of their society in a harsh environment, the people of Anarres are taught from childhood to put the needs of their society ahead of their own personal desires. Shevek and Takver, as good Odonians, take work postings away from each other, and Shevek does hard, agricultural labor in a dusty desert instead of working on his research, because he is needed there due to a famine.

Their non-government is loosely led by a physicist, a born leader but a modest man who prefers his lab to any seat of power.

I think you may be mis-remembering this. Their non-government is actually simply organized by syndicates, but the main character is a physicist who is critically important because his work on FTL communications technology and a broader theory of how time works.

Some catastrophe that will destroy the mother planet is impending and only the physicist can save them. He makes the controversial decision to travel to the planet and help them. The bulk of the story is about his experiences on the planet.

I'm not sure if this part matches or not - the main character does travel to the main planet and it is controversial, but I don't think it's because of a major crisis. Basically the main planet is in a major cold war and the physicist is on the verge of inventing an FTL communications device. I believe that the general idea is that he is about to invent some critical technology and he's leveraging this to get some social change and to help his people interact with the main planet.

He makes the controversial decision to travel to the planet and help them. The bulk of the story is about his experiences on the planet.

The book actually alternates chapters between his experience on the planet. The controversy of him going to the main planet is because the people who live on the moon are radical separatists and have no contact with the main planet, except trade. From the wikipedia (sub)article on the planet:

It was settled by Odonian separatists coming from Urras. Ever since, contact to Urras has been strictly limited by a treaty, the only point of contact being Urrasti freighters landing and exchanging cargo at the spaceport in Abbenay.

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Pretty sure this is it. The physicist Shevek is not the leader of Anarres, though, nor does he travel to Urras to prevent an impeding catastrophe that would destroy his planet. –  Andres F. Feb 27 at 20:15
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To add to the other answer, I think you may be mixing up elements of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Disposessed. –  Dhara Feb 28 at 10:56
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