572: Brave Genius by Sean Carroll

by Gerard


572.8092: Carroll, Sean B. Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize. New York: Crown. 576 pp. ISBN 978-0-3079-5233-2.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 570: Biology
  • 572: Biochemistry
  • 572.8: Biochemical genetics
  • +092: Biography

Two unlikely fellows became friends during World War II. One, a writer whose athletic career was sidelined by a nasty bout with tuberculosis, and the other, a scientist trying to figure his life out, got caught up in the war effort on the side of the French Resistance. Sean B. Carroll’s Brave Genius tells the tales of Jacques Monod  and Albert Camus from the perspective of the war. Each helped to defend their fellow countrymen without ever donning a military uniform. Luckily, they survived. Without them, the world would have a little less rich.

This dual biography provides insight into the celebrated work of Monod and Camus. Each won a Nobel Prize (Monod in 1965 and Camus in 1957) and each one’s work affected the worldviews of the other. Camus’s long-held beliefs in a godless, absurd universe and Monod’s pioneering efforts in the world of molecular biology both show incredible faith in reason and science. Their friendship throughout the war kept them on the course of resistance in the face of constant threats of death.

The only issue I have with the book is that it runs very long in places. In trying to present a complete context for the two subjects, Carroll paints, I think, too big a picture. You get the lead up to the war, and an explanation of mRNA, bits and pieces about various initiatives around Europe, and many other chunks of information. There’s a lot of details that could have easily been left out while still telling the fascinating tale of the two resistance fighters. The writing’s not bad—there’s just a lot of it. That being said, Carroll did quite a bit of research tracking down former operatives and getting into previously-closed archives. A dense and rich book.