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

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Overview

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, each joined the Resistance to ...
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Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize

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Overview

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, each 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 their respective fields.
 
Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how each man endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth century and then blossomed into extraordinarily 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 of profound concern for and insight into the human condition.
 
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nominally a work about two Nobel laureates—biologist Jacques Monod and writer/philosopher Albert Camus—and their eventual friendship, Carroll’s latest (after the National Book Award–nominated Remarkable Creatures) sprawls across a vast field, spiraling dangerously near incoherence. The friendship between the two men, warm and satisfying as it was, seems merely an excuse for the book. Still, Carroll has a winning way with words, and everything he writes about (especially difficult matters of science) sparkles with clarity. But coverage of WWII-era Europe, as well as the French Resistance (in which both Monod and Camus were active, without yet knowing each other), discussions of genetics and Existentialism, and analyses of the horrific conflict in Algeria in the ’50s and ’60s and the 1968 Paris student uprisings don’t gel into a book—especially not one that is said to be about two men whose lives happened to intertwine. Carroll is convincing about Camus’s influence on Monod’s nontechnical thinking and writing, but the book has no center. The result is a diverting, informative work, but not a satisfying one. Agent: Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
A chronicle of the friendship between writer Albert Camus and biologist Jacques Monod, skillfully combining science, biography and history. They first came together in September 1948 to cooperate in a venture against international communism known as Groupes de Liaison Internationale, writes Carroll (Molecular Biology and Genetics/Univ. of Wisconsin; Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for Origins of Species, 2009, etc.). As the anonymous editor and lead writer of the underground resistance newspaper Combat, Camus had provided a voice for his fellow countrymen during the war and immediately after. Monod, a bitter opponent of what he called the Soviet Union's "insane phenomenon," including Trofim Lysenko's genetic theories, attended meetings and contributed science writing to Combat. Their common effort involved a confrontation with friends and allies from past struggles against the Nazis, such as the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Carroll shows that through this cooperation, Camus and Monod began to understand that shared philosophical and political convictions had fueled their earlier, separate contributions to the Resistance. In those years, while Camus edited, Monod had been involved in clandestine military operations, securing weapons and ammunition, planning sabotage, coordinating with Americans in Switzerland and organizing the civilian uprising that helped liberate Paris. Their postwar cooperation was much broader than simple anticommunism. Nobel Prizes crowned the careers of both. In 1957, Camus became the second-youngest winner of the literature prize at age 44, primarily for his philosophical treatise The Rebel. Monod was awarded his prize in 1965 for discoveries concerning "the genetic control of enzyme and viral synthesis," but Camus, tragically killed in an auto accident in 1960, did not live to see that day. Monod carried on Camus' work through his own later writings and such activities as welcoming Martin Luther King to Paris. An important story well-told.
From the Publisher
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

“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

 
 

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
Carroll (molecular biology & genetics, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; Remarkable Creatures), a National Book Award finalist and winner of a Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award, deftly weaves science and history together in his account of the lives, accomplishments, and friendship of two exceptional men. Writer-philosopher Albert Camus and genetic scientist Jacques Monod lived in dramatic times, in occupied France, with Camus editing an undergound newspaper and Monod running operations for a Resistance army. They met and became friends after the war. Years later, both responded vocally to the Russians' crushing of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Wrote Camus, "I have known only one true genius: Jacques Monod." Both received the Nobel Prize: Camus (literatures) in 1957, Monod (physiology) in 1965. Both were public men in the best sense of the phrase and held similar views of the human condition in a wholly secularized world. At Camus's tragic death in 1960, Monod was still aiding refugees, e.g., a biologist and her husband escaping Hungary. When asked why he'd helped, he said, "It's a question of human dignity." Although Carroll is a scientist, science is not overly intrusive in this book; there is an appendix for those who want more such details. VERDICT Spanning history, science, and philosophy, this dual biographical study of two significant 20th-century figures will appeal to a diverse audience. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307952332
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 203,584
  • Product dimensions: 6.66 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Sean B. Carroll is the author of Remarkable Creatures, a finalist for the National Book Award, The Making of the Fittest, winner of the Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award, and of Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Carroll also writes a monthly feature “Remarkable Creatures” for the New York Times Science Times. An internationally-known scientist and leading educator, Dr. Carroll currently heads the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and is Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Wisconsin.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 30, 2014

    Highly recommend

    Fantastic book: As overview of two geniuses; as partial history of French Resistance in WWII; and as details of accomplished ives of both Camus (whom I knew of a bit) and Jaques Monod, of whom I had never heard. Wonderful narrative style. Very intellectual, but still a well-told story.

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