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Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize Hardcover – September 24, 2013
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“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.”
“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.'"
"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."
“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.”
“[S]killfully combining science, biography and history… An important story well-told.”
“Carroll has a winning way with words, and everything he writes about (especially difficult matters of science) sparkles with clarity.”
“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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very interesting, fast moving and well written and researched.Published 20 days ago by Carleen Lane
In Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize* (2014) University of Wisconsin molecular biologist Sean B. Read morePublished 3 months ago by jamie
I had taught classes on existentialism, but was astounded at the amount of information that was "new" to me in this tour de force of a romp through the middle of the... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Gene C. Bammel
A superb, articulate book telling the story of two astounding, courageous people behind the scenes amidst of the grave fear of WWII and Hitler's SS in Paris, researched and written... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Obsolete
Excellent. This is a good read for anyone interested in the French experience during World War II and, in particular, the resistance movement. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Linda Riegle
I'm only part way through but it is a very good, in depth account of the struggle in France during WW2. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Louise
Very interesting and courageous lives. The science gets too complicated in many part of the book, which makes it hard to read.Published 10 months ago by Gregorio Kahn
This book gave me a perspective of WWII that I had not read before. The perspective of what happened to the French people after their government capitulated to the Germans. Read morePublished 12 months ago by V. Alvord
Excellent portrait of France before and during the Second World War, the resistance, and the blossoming of modern biology after the war.Published 15 months ago by Walter Gilbert