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Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how each man endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth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.
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.
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A somewhat unwieldy book done in by too much molecular biology that the non-biologist simply cannot decipher. Excellent on Paris during World War Two and the Resistance. Excellent on Camus' philosophy and Monod's version, it is skimpy on the relationship between them, perhaps because they didn't have all that much reported contact. Jacob appears later in the book as a very important character. The escape from Hungary of Ullmann and her husband is interpolated without enough preparation or explanation. On the whole it had its good parts, its parts that didn't fit in, and it's unintelligible science.