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

Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Revolution to the Nobel Prize, by Sean B. Carroll
Publisher: Crown Publishers
ISBN: 0307952339
592 pages, hardcover
Published September 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

Having focused on biology and French in college, I was obviously intrigued when I saw the description of this book. Amazingly I hadn’t realize the wealth of connections between these subjects that intersected in the decades from World War II to the Cold War. The achievement of Carroll’s book is that he is able to merge disparate forms into one cohesive, enthralling, and compulsively readable volume. A combination of biography, military history, literary/philosophical history, and science, Carroll somehow makes it all work, focusing on the lives of Camus, Monod, Jacob, and others. Mostly these stories are physically separated, coming together in time and space only briefly. Yet each individual’s separate story is linked together by shared global experiences of political and social strife and coming each, individually to a personal philosophy and pursuit of some passion for their own personal betterment and the benefit of their fellow humans. Camus’ story in terms of his journalism, literature, and Existential philosophy is the most widely familiar, but strikingly similar to the genius and passion displayed by Monod, Jacob, and others through their pursuit of science. For anyone interested in literature, science, or the history of World War II, this is a book I would seek to devour. What sets it apart from a mere history of compelling characters is the inspiration it engenders to fight against situations of injustice and concern that you may see in the world, giving an applicability that transcends any particular historic period or society, one that you can easily see reflected in many issues of politics, science and culture today.

Five Stars out of Five

Seduction, by M.J. Rose

15802432Seduction, by M.J. Rose
(The Reincarnationist Series Book 5)
Publisher: Atria Books
ISBN: 1451621507
384 pages, hardcover
Published May 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

Rose has written several thrillers featuring the theme of reincarnation. What drew my interest to this was the inclusion of French culture and the paranormal, so I thought I would give this a try. After winning the giveaway for this new novel by Rose, I discovered that it features the same main protagonist as her previous one, so I found a copy of that to read. Sadly, I probably would have liked this more if I hadn’t done that.

One characteristic of these stories is the use of multiple plot lines that span different time eras that converge together at the end by virtue of the reincarnation theme. A difficulty of Rose’s previous novel was that she also included a present day political thriller into this mix as well, causing the work to lack focus. Here, this is improved, but at the same time, it loses the large-scale significance. As the continuation of the story of the protagonist, Jac, it also runs into the difficulty that the previous book deeply explored the link between memory and smell in relation to the perfumery business of Jac’s family. Here, a great deal of the magic achieved in Rose’s writing in this perfume-memory link is lost, the thread being replaced by the paranormal, occult themes related to the séances of Victor Hugo while on the Channel island of Jersey in exile.

In this paranormal theme Rose again shows her ability to compose some really beautiful prose. She is great with words, she crafts a decent thriller filled with mystique and some chills. However, the major problems I had with her last book in characterizations and achieving a believable voice for different time periods/cultures remains a defect in “Seduction”. While the present-day characters are rendered well, those of the other time periods are far less so, particularly Celtic characters from BCE in passages with word choices that simply appear anachronistic and jarring – albeit not ‘spoken’ in dialogue, it makes the overall tone of these chapters indistinguishable from those set in the present.

What really caused me to enjoy this less than the previous novel, however, was that the overall structure and reincarnation themes that are the central crux of the entire work were already familiar to me. If I had read all the other novels in the series I cannot imagine what new insight this would present. But for those that really like that formula, I guess they will love this just as much as Rose’s other novels. While her last novel piqued my interest with the poetic discussions and history of fragrances to balance out the reincarnation ‘preachiness’, the paranormal aspects in “Seduction” just weren’t strong enough in atmosphere or creepiness to catch such interest from me.

Two  Stars out of Five