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Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize [Kindle Edition]

Sean B. Carroll
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

The never-before-told account of the intersection of some of the most insightful minds of the 20th century, and a fascinating look at how war, resistance, and friendship can catalyze genius.
In the spring of 1940, the aspiring but unknown writer Albert Camus and budding scientist Jacques Monod were quietly pursuing ordinary, separate lives in Paris. After the German invasion and occupation of France, both men joined the Resistance to help liberate the country from the Nazis, ascended to prominent, dangerous roles, and were very lucky to survive. After the war and through twists of circumstance, they became friends, and through their passionate determination and rare talent they emerged as leading voices of modern literature and biology, each receiving the Nobel Prize in his respective field.
Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how Camus and Monod endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth century and then blossomed into remarkably creative and engaged individuals. It is a story of the transformation of ordinary lives into exceptional lives by extraordinary events—of courage in the face of overwhelming adversity, the flowering of creative genius, deep friendship, and profound concern for and insight into the human condition.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Trumpeted in headlines, the story has often been told of how Camus sacrificed his friendship with Sartre by publicly criticizing the Soviet Union. The untold story (the story Carroll here unfolds) is of how Camus won a brilliant new friend—namely, biologist Jacques Monod—through the same political courage. Readers here watch as Camus forcefully denounces the Soviet show trials, massive executions, and labor camps at the same time that Monod is reacting to the Stalinist pseudoscience enshrined in Trofim Lysenko’s wild biological theorizing. But beyond the shared abhorrence for Soviet enormities that initially brings Camus and Monod together, Carroll limns a number of other parallels in their life trajectories. Both profess—and then lose—a youthful faith in communism. Both shoulder major responsibilities in the French Resistance during WWII. Both assume, as the supreme human challenge, the task of affirming creative freedom in an absurd universe. Both win Nobel Prizes for groundbreaking work—Camus in literature, Monod in medicine. Readers will learn a good deal about symbolism in Camus’ fiction and biochemistry in Monod’s molecular biology. But, above all, they will learn about a luminous friendship forged in dark times. A rare chronicle of valiant thinkers fighting political oppression and transcending professional boundaries. --Bryce Christensen


Praise for Sean B. Carroll’s Brave Genius:
“This is, in short, a gripping book throughout, and Carroll deserves all praise for his double portrait of two exemplary heroes of conscience and intellect.”
Washington Post

“Suspenseful…Brave Genius is briskly paced and ambitiously sprawling, offering potted accounts of historical episodes large and small (the fall of France, the 1956 Hungarian crisis, Camus’s famous feud with Jean-Paul Sartre, the discovery of the double helix), along with finer-grained descriptions of Camus’s and Monod’s work. Dr. Carroll has done some impressive archival digging, turning up fresh and often vivid details.”
New York Times

"Carroll beautifully encapsulates how two men seemingly so far apart in their philosophies and achievements both ended up sharing 'exceptional lives' transformed by 'exceptional events.'"
Scientific American

"Carroll does a masterful job of keeping the many elements together and the story moving….In 1959, C. P. Snow wrote of the “two cultures” — that gulf between science and the humanities. Brave Genius provides an opportunity for those on both sides of the divide to sample a potent mix of genet­ics, philosophy and literature, forged in the twentieth-century tumult of war and cold war.” —Nature

"[A]n exciting and impressively told tale."
American Scholar

“Their relationship, Carroll finds, not only illuminates the work of both men, but also unlocks the political and philosophical contingencies of a key moment in 20th-century thought…Carroll, an important biologist with true storytelling talents, recounts the tale beautifully.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books

“Readers will learn a good deal about symbolism in Camus’ fiction and biochemistry in Monod’s molecular biology. But, above all, they will learn about a luminous friendship forged in dark times. A rare chronicle of valiant thinkers fighting political oppression and transcending professional boundaries.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Carroll deftly weaves science and history together in his account of the lives, accomplishments, and friendship of two exceptional men…Spanning history, science, and philosophy, this dual biographical study of two significant 20th-century figures will appeal to a diverse audience.”
Library Journal

“[S]killfully combining science, biography and history… An important story well-told.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Carroll has a winning way with words, and everything he writes about (especially difficult matters of science) sparkles with clarity.”
Publishers Weekly
“A brave, ambitious, unexpected book.  Who knew that Sean B. Carroll, a brilliant biologist, could or would write such a work of literary, political, and scientific history?  It brings many revelations, offers several heroes, but at its heart is Jacques Monod, emerging as one of the great, complete men of the 20th century.”
David Quammen, author of Spillover and The Song of the Dodo

“Art and science are two essential components forming the very essence of what makes being human worth being human. Sean Carroll has done a yeoman's job of merging these two vital areas beautifully in this moving and carefully researched history of two great minds and two brave men…It is impossible not to be inspired by their story.”  
Lawrence M. Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing

“A remarkable profile. With deep research and compelling story-telling, Sean Carroll follows these two Nobel-prize winners from the desperate depths of World War II to international fame.”
Carl Zimmer, author of Soul Made Flesh and Microcosm

“A tour de force, a gripping narrative of a pivotal time in the history of Europe and of science. Finishing Brave Genius, I felt inspired by the determination of the key characters in the book, by their quest for liberty in the face of great injustice, and by the power their discoveries gave to understanding the living world.”
Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within

“The story of two brilliant men who understood better than anyone the randomness and absurdity of life, but who fought valiantly and fiercely to make the world a better place. History, personality, and ideas come together in this amazing tale of science, philosophy and friendship.”
Sean M. Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here and Particle at the End of the Universe


Product Details

  • File Size: 5498 KB
  • Print Length: 594 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307952339
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (September 24, 2013)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C4BA620
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,010 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I know Sean B Carroll's work as a molecular biologist and writer on evolution, so I picked up this book due to an interest in Monod and the untold story of his involvement in the French resistance. I was familiar with Camus from reading Les Justes in high school French class. Honestly, I wasn't sure where Carroll would take the story, but I was eager to find out.

In short, this book was a fascinating and enjoyable read but not a tightly written book. It was really quite a few stories put into one, including a full history of World War II as written from the French perspective. To be honest, I thought at first it was excessive as I know quite a bit about WWII, but as I read further, I realized I had never quite looked at it the way Carroll presents it. Why were the French defeated so quickly? How did ordinary Frenchmen view the collapse of their government, Vichy France, De Galle, etc? I was engrossed in the telling of the war and the confusion and mayhem that commenced as the Germans took Paris. Truly an amazing feat, especially for a writer versed in molecular biology.

Of course, the story as told on the cover is about Camus and Monod, and their stories are interspersed with the story of the invasion of France. The author presents a historical arc from the founding of the Pasteur Institute to the work done by Monod. Nothing happens in isolation, and I love how he weaves the history, science, and personalities so seamlessly.

As I read this book, I was astounded by how quickly I was turning the pages to find out more, and despite the length, I enjoyed the journey greatly. In a few spots I had to flip back and remember some details.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ambitious and Fascinating Set of Stories August 27, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a very ambitious book that attempted to take on multiple major subjects, some more successfully than others. There are at least four separate histories recounted here, any of which could be an entire book in and of itself. First, there is the well-researched and well-written history of the French occupation by the Nazis and the role played by the French resistance movement. This is easily the best part of the book, both in terms of its organization and the ease of reading it. The level of detail was just right.

Second, there is the biography of Jacques Monod, the Nobel prize-winning molecular biologist, and his work. This story line is choppy, divided up in various places, and not as easy to follow, although the author does a good job of conveying the excitement of discovery going on at the Pasteur Institute in those days.

Third, there is the biography of Albert Camus, the Nobel prize-winning existentialist philosopher and author. As with Monod, this story line is choppy and divided up, making it harder to follow. However, the author does a good job of introducing Camus's major works and the basic ideas of his philosophy.

Fourth, there are the stories of the post-World War II revolutions taking place in Hungary, France, and Algeria. These histories are all relatively cursory, with the Hungarian revolution being the best developed among them and the Algerian revolution being almost entirely glossed over.

In spite of these shortcomings, I enjoyed the book overall, although I agree with prior reviewers that improving the organization would make it much stronger.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This work is HUGE ! November 25, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Sean Carroll creates a pastiche of events, science and philosophy that transcends its parts. Just read, comprehend and let it wash over you. I was thrilled the whole way along by Carroll's writing that is both clear and creative, that lucidly explains the philosophy and science involved and even considerately includes translations the reader might need. I was even more thrilled when I got to the end and felt I had enjoyed a quietly brilliant verbal tapestry, had been led not just to understand an era but also had read a creative masterpiece.

It helps, I think, to have a deep interest in biology, especially genetics, and even more specifically, in the mechanism by which viruses take over bacteria. It likewise helps to have interest in the history of our 20th century; to be terminally curious about and open to learning more about what happened under the various totalitarian scourges. But neither intense interest would seem necessary to the understanding of this work, mainly because careful reading of the text provides the tutelage.

Carroll's way of writing is both detached reporting of carefully gleaned facts and artistic working of weft into warp. He neither belabors cruel details nor ducks them. We find ourselves with new awareness of Nazi treachery, the French Resistance to it, the Vichy "government", Allied victory, the rise of Stalin upon Hitler's disappearance (a modelling?), and then the horror in Hungary. All this took place within my own lifetime, and as much as I've experienced and read, I absorbed more. Throughout - and largely chronologically - we learn of the work of Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, work that takes both men to Stockholm as Nobel Laureates. We learn of their compatibility, their magnetic friendship.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
A wonderful insight into the lives of two influential men living through change all around them. Its worth a second read to appreciate just how important they both were.
Published 5 days ago by Bradford Lawson
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched page-turner.
An account of what happened in France before, during and after wartime, full of fascinating well-researched details regarding the courageous actions, thoughts and discoveries of... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Crayfisk
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The best book of the year! Strongly recommend, it is now in my favorite books collection.
Published 25 days ago by grazyna m meray
4.0 out of 5 stars Hefty but interesting read
It's 1940 France. Right In the middle of WWII. Two men, leading entirely different lives become entwined, forming an unexpected friendship. Read more
Published 1 month ago by OceanDreamer
5.0 out of 5 stars In 1967, William Hayes led me to microbial genetics ...
In 1967, William Hayes led me to microbial genetics and the related scientific literature. The latter included papers of Jacques Monod and colleagues. In 2014, Sean B. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Joseph J. McArdle
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Not a well known story. Very interesting and a subject and authenticity that I could personnaly vouch for.
Published 3 months ago by Sal J. Berenholz
5.0 out of 5 stars It draws my curiosity nearly at the first sight. ...
It draws my curiosity nearly at the first sight. The World War II, two Nobel laureates in two various fields, all the elements there are compelling. The book devours my spare time
Published 3 months ago by Yige
5.0 out of 5 stars science rules the world
As man understands more about the world through science, less importance can be attributed to the wretched ideas of superstition and religion. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Diabolics
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning piece of history
Disclosure: Albert Camus has been a hero of mine since I was in college 45 years ago. That said, this book is a stunning piece of history. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Gordon Cash
3.0 out of 5 stars Review for Brave Genius
This book is about the lives of Albert Camus and Jacques Monod before, during, and after WWII. They both participated in the French Resistance and went on win Nobel Prizes for... Read more
Published 5 months ago by the prancing llama
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More About the Author

SEAN CARROLL is a professor of molecular biology and genetics and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of The Making of the Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo.


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