Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prizeby Sean B. Carroll
In the spring of 1940, the aspiring but unknown writer Albert Camus and budding scientist Jacques Monod were quietly pursuing ordinary, separate/b>/b>
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 and ascended to prominent, dangerous roles. 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Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how each man endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth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.
“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.”
“[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.”
“Skillfully 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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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, among others. Carroll also wrote 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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.
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. Carroll is the story of two men who tried to live ethical lives during some of the world’s darkest hours. Brave Genius follows the parallel lives of Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, two of twentieth century France’s greatest thinkers and ethicists. Both men were Nobel Laureates (Camus for literature, Monod for physiology) whose professional successes were matched by their activities—both overt and covert—as public intellectuals. During the German occupation of France in WWII, Camus and Monod were active members of the French Resistance: Camus wrote scathing editorials in the Resistance newspaper Combat while Monod led sabotage missions—activities frequently punished by execution. After the war, both men became outspoken critics of Soviet-style Communism and the stultifying effects of totalitarianism on personal liberties and public discourse. The strongest aspect of Brave Genius is in its characterization of Monod and his daring-do. Truly, it is Monod who is the hero of this book—and rightly so. Until I read Brave Genius, I was not familiar with Monod, his awarding winning work on gene expression, or even his contributions to French intellectual life. Carroll’s tight, tension-building prose underscores the gravity of Monod’s heroic actions. Ironically, Brave Genius’s greatest weakness is its central marketing point: the friendship between Monod and Camus. The book is marketed as an exploration of the formative friendship between Camus and Monod; Carroll goes so far as to claim that Camus’s friendship with Monod was on the most indelible relationships Camus ever had. However, Carroll only succeeds in showing how the men lead parallel lives, the reader is left in the awkward position of having to accept that the men had a fraternal bond based on a few excerpted letters and the author’s word alone. Had Carroll brought the friends together more within the pages of Brave Genius, this claim at deep friendship would have seemed less tenuous. Overall, Brave Genius is well worth a read for Camus fans, French culture enthusiasts, and war buffs alike. *This book was sent to me by the publisher for review. I have not been financially compensated for this review and the thoughts expressed herein are my own.