Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: "Brave Genius: A Scientist, A Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize" by Sean B Carroll

Albert Camus and Jacques Monod were probably not two people who you would have randomly thrown together to be bestest of friends and yet these two men were bonded for life by extraordinary, sometimes terrible, events. The fact that they each lived through WWII to be friends beyond those dark days was an achievement on it's own! I'm going to break each of the men down separately and then we will get them together.

Albert Camus was born in (French) Algeria in 1913. He grew up incredibly poor. When he was younger he was an ardent Communist (this would change). He was married twice, and fathered twins with his second wife, but he juggled so many lovers and mistresses that I don't know how he kept them all straight.

Jacques Monod was born in Paris to a French father and an American mother (from Milwaukee, no less!). Incredibly bright from a young age he studied biology at Sorbonne before the war. He was married and had children. I'm not going to pretend to really comprehend what he studied but it was genetics and DNA related.

But that's almost all in the future. Our story begins as the Nazis stomp their way into France. Both men are in Paris, and witness the occupation. Both men want into the Resistance. They worked for underground newspapers, they helped coordinate parachute drops, they passed along information in many ways. They risked their lives everyday. They grew close and even after the war ended were like brothers. They once went out to dinner with 2 other men to discuss something, and the 2 other men both commented on the men's connection. That they could finish each other's sentences, and seemed to guess what the other one was thinking. 

Both men would win a Nobel Prize; Albert in 1957 and Jacques in 1965.

I wanted to adore this book but it didn't quite happen. There were things that I really liked about this book. There were little tidbits of great World War II information spread through the first part of the book. There's talk about all kinds of naval skirmishes and attacks up in the scandinavian country area that I had never heard about, for example. Or Monod's risking almost everything to help a scientist get out of occupied Hungary after the war ended. When it kind of lost me was when it would get really heavy into the science, especially when the book just focused on Monod a little later in life. It was a little much for this science illiterate. I give it a high 2 or low 3 stars? It should probably be higher but it was really just dragging for me by the end. If you'd ask me to rate it it in the middle I'd probably give it a 3!

Also, doesn't Camus kind of look like Topher Grace in this picture?

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review from Blogging for Books


  1. I have not heard of Monod, but I've read a couple books by Camus, so it's interesting to know just a little of his life from your review (hmmm, lots of mistresses, huh?). But the deep friendship between these two sounds inspiring, it's too bad it didn't keep your interest throughout!

    1. Not just a lot of mistresses, but usually a couple at a time, and of great variety (actresses, mathmaticians, etc.)!


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