Review: Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize ~ Sean B. Carroll

Brave GeniusThe 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Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how each man endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth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.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book is a definite departure from the usual works of this Author, in which he normally addresses the subject of biology; evolutionary biology to be exact, but in this case he has turned his writing skills to history.  This book covers the stories of Albert Camus, Nobel Prize-winning writer / philosopher and political activist, and also that of Jacques Monod, Nobel Prize-winning biologist and French resistance fighter.  I started reading this book not having any real knowledge of either Camus or Monod, but by the time I turned the final page the Author had done an outstanding job of expanding my education in this area.

Before the reader picks this up they need to be aware that it is a book of two distinct halves.  The first half of the book centres on Occupied France during World War II and gives an in-depth look, from the French viewpoint as to what life was like living under German rule. It is apparent that the Author spent a great deal of time researching this aspect of the book as they cover in great detail the extent to which the occupation affected France, and also the circumstances that led to some of the occurrences that took place.  This aspect alone makes it a great and informative read for anyone that has only a basic understanding of this era in history as it pertained to France.   The Author gives the reader a personal look at these times, and from this they will be able to pick out the influence that World War II had on Camus and his future writing.  The second half focuses on the work of Camus and Monod after the end of the war.  Again it is very detailed and shows the reader, once again, the amount of time to research that the Author has invested during their writing of this historical chronicle.

The book is a very well documented and worthwhile the read and, although the Author paints the picture of both these men with a very broad brush, he still manages to convey the qualities that made these men great; that is the work they carried out beyond their own vocations.  The Author also manages to stir in the reader feelings of admiration for both Camus and Monod to such an extent that sadness follows when we read about their deaths.

It is a long, very long read and due to the in-depth descriptions of activities taking place it can take some time to navigate; this makes it definitely not a book that can be delved into and absorbed within a few days, it needs time to be taken over it to be able to process everything that can be learnt from its pages.  There were also some areas of the book that left me wondering as to the reactions and feelings of other persons mentioned, but these were just little annoyances in, what otherwise, is a very educating read.

I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in, or wanting to learn about Camus, Monod, and the way world was in their lifetime; it was would also be of great interest to anyone who enjoys a good non-fiction book that is slightly different from others in the genre.  Readers of World War II history and philosophy may also enjoy this book.

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