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Brave Genius    by Sean B. Carroll order for
Brave Genius
by Sean B. Carroll
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Anita Lock

This story of two famous French Nobel laureates, Albert Camus (1957 in Literature) and Jacques Monod (1965 in Physiology or Medicine), includes perilous adventures that transformed their lives and profound friendship. It is nothing short of miracle, thanks to - as stated by Carroll - 'the discovery of and access to a great deal of previously unknown and unpublished material.' Carroll, being the scientist, educator, history buff, writer, and most definitely storyteller that he is, collated the priceless resources and divided them into two halves: the first explaining how the world shaped these men, and the second , how they shaped the world.

They led ordinary lives in 1940. Camus was 'an aspiring but unknown twenty-six-year-old writer, working as a layout designer for the newspaper Paris-Soir,' and Monod 'an underachieving and, at age thirty, relatively old doctoral student in zoology at the Sorbonne'. They were suddenly caught in the middle of a German invasion. What follows is Carroll's meticulous description of the degradation of life in occupied France. The invaders' atrocities against humanity ignited Camus and Monod to come to the aide of the oppressed; and though neither knew the other at the time, Carroll highlights the profound synchronicity of their involvement with the French Resistance movement, an underground organization that fought against Nazi occupation. Both took on risky leadership positions, Camus, working for the underground Resistance newspaper Combat, and Monod as a high-ranking member of the French Forces of the Interior. This forced them to live in secrecy, including assuming different names.

Reflecting upon his experiences during the Resistance and the 'fragility of life and freedom,' Carroll elucidates that Camus's writing 'struck a chord with readers recovering from the tragedies of World War II.' Meanwhile, Monod returned to the lab and explored the biological secrets of life. In the midst of their philosophical and scientific research, the two were introduced in 1948 through a mutual friend. Bonding quickly, the strength of their friendship became the catalyst of their involvement during the Cold War, as both addressed the issue of human rights regarding genetics and the oppression of Hungary.

Carroll has produced a masterpiece. Brave Genius encapsulates much more than how these transformed men transformed society. It is about living life with a purpose, and in their case for the sake of humanity. As Camus aptly spelled out, 'All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.'

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