Book: Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize by Sean B. Carroll
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Publication date: 2013
Source: Accepted an offered copy from the publisher
Summary: Brave Genius tells the story of Albert Camus, philosopher and writer, and Jacques Monod, scientist. When they were young men, they each did their bit for the French Resistance, in very different ways. As they matured in their respective fields, they found paths to genius, again in very different ways, and to the Nobel Prize — in Literature for Camus and in Physiology or Medicine for Monod. Brave Genius is much more than a dual biography, however. The emphasis is on the events and environment that shaped these two lives in France, from World War II through the beginnings of the Cold War and into the tumultuous 1960s.
Thoughts: I’m proud of myself that I finished Brave Genius since it’s more ambitious than the books I usually read. I probably wouldn’t have accepted the offer from the publisher had I realized quite how thick and broad-reaching it was — but I’m glad I did. It’s a testament to the writing that I kept being drawn back to this book even when other reading interrupted for a time.
As amazed as I am that I read it, I’m completely astounded that anyone had the diverse background in history, politics, economics, French, science, philosophy and literature that was required to write it. I loved the acknowledgments at the end when Carroll explained how that developed. His story began at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis — we may have even overlapped there for a year or two.
On this Veterans Day, I would like to share the story about the day in World War II when Paris was liberated. Monod, with his colleague Geneviève Noufflard, drove messages by bicycle between resistance barricades during the day and then spent the evening listening to the radio. They heard the announcement that French troops had entered Paris. The announcer went on to read from Victor Hugo, play “La Marseillaise,” and then requested that “all the parish priests ring their church bells.”
Monod and Noufflard opened the windows and waited . . . They heard a bell in the distance, then another one closer, and soon a chorus of bells across the city–from Notre-Dame to Sacré-Cœur, ringing for the first time in four years. (p. 244)
Appeal: This fit well into all my France-themed reading this year, filling in gaps in the history that I didn’t even know I had. My WWII knowledge, I discovered, is completely American and British-centered but now I have a much better understanding from the French viewpoint. I’m embarrassed to say that I had to look up Algeria on a map to even get the continent right (northern Africa with Morocco to the west and Tunisia and Libya to the east, in case I’m not the only one). The view of the communist Soviet Union was much more interesting and nuanced from the French mindset than the American one — Camus and Monod were critical but in ways that the average American never thought about.
So, this will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about the world from another perspective. Give it a chance, even if you think you’re allergic to science. The science parts are well-explained and if you don’t understand every detail, you’ll still get the gist enough to keep the story flowing.
Challenges: Brave Genius is my 16th book for the Books on France challenge of 2013.
Check out An Accidental Blog today for more French-themed posts. Paulita has photos from a visit in a French home.
I’m also linking this with the Nonfiction November posts. Check out Sophisticated Dorkiness for essays on the topic of nonfiction and expertise as well as links to nonfiction book reviews.
Do you feel accomplished when you read a book that is a little out of your comfort zone?