This is a terrific book! I was recently reading a genetics textbook, where there was an insert about the life of Monod. This propelled me to Wikipedia which then led me to Amazon books. The history of the Nazi invasion of Paris/France is well presented. The principle characters, Albert Camus and Jaques Monod, are both heroes and icons. It helps that their philosophy of life is similar to mine. It also helps that I am familiar with all the biology presented which is pretty basic and not more than any layman can grasp. The author does a good job of keeping the story interesting weaving between the existential, the real, and the theoretical. I learned a lot from this reading.
If you are looking for a thrilling story about real-life Heroes, read this book - though I believe Camus and Monod would not have regarded themselves as heroes. As other reviewers have noted, this book provides a strong narrative about Albert Camus and Jacques Monod as friends and as important Nobel Prize winners in their respective fields, literature and physiology (biochemistry). Carroll also includes a narrative about Monod's fellow prize winners Francois Jacob and Andre Lwoff. That narrative is only the one thread of this book. Another thread recounts how both Camus and Monod embraced communism and later rejected it. A key thread reports their brave, constant and intense life-threatening important work in the French Resistance in World War II. Unfortunately, their contributions to the French Resistance were not widely known or taught when I read THE STRANGER in a 1959 freshman university course or later when I read THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS. Likewise, the professional and resistance work of Monod also was unknown. But Carroll's real writing strength combines terrific research with an equally terrific narrative to wed biographical, historical, philosophical, and scientific detail to his subject's beautifully explained literary and scientific concepts. For example, the reasons for Camus's disagreement with Sartre builds until their friendship is broken by Camus's principled, well reasoned and uncomplicated statements of denunciation of communism and the atrocities of the Soviet Union. Likewise, Carroll describes Monod's scientific attack on the Soviet pseudoscience promoted on the work of Trofim Lysenko. I cannot thank Sean Carroll enough for writing this book! For me and perhaps for others, this book describes in moving detail what it meant to be a real warrior in the treacherous social and political environment of France after the Vichy government capitulated to Hitler and the Third Reich. Carroll's narrative does not stop in 1945 but continues through to the death of Monod in 1976 (Camus died in 1960) and covers his achievements in biochemistry as well as devising an escape for two scientists from Hungary after the Soviet invasion in 1956.
Though I generally like narratives that are wide-ranging, with complex linkages, Carroll goes too far. The story is often lost in his attempt to provide deep background. There are long sections where neither of the principal subjects is even mentioned. Although some link between Camus and Monod are alluded to, their significance is not really developed. I would have liked to see more attention paid to their interactions and their influence on each other. The. contrast they represented, between the writer and the microbiologist, is a theme that could have been much more fully explored.
I would like to start by saying this story was grand in magnitude. The intricacy of each person's life, intertwined, not only with others, but of their philosophies and the setting of historical events, can only be described as astounding. The amount of detail that went into the careful planning and execution of this book is tremendous and I applaud Sean Carroll for his attention to detail.
On that note I would like to say that this book is not for the feint of heart. I myself have no background in science, nor am I one to be a stickler for remembering names and events, perfectly, the first time I hear them. This book is full of both of those things. The first portion is very historical while the second half is more along the scientific line. I had a hard time following along at some points and even had to re read large sections of text to get a sense of what was going on.
I'm only bringing this up, not to say that the book was bad, should be changed or that Sean isn't a good writer. I believe that none of those things are true. What I am saying is that this book has a very specific audience that could enjoy it to its fullest potential. My brain has a hard time remembering specifics of that nature but can easily write a novel on the daily life of an ant. We all think differently and this book I believe is best to be enjoyed by the more analytical mind than the philosophical mind, in just how it is written and layered.
My greatest praises go to Sean Carroll for giving me insight of a breathtaking time in history, of the scientists and political figures that shaped it, and of a country (France) that I didn't know much about, in regards to the war. The perspective was brilliant and had me on the edge of my seat during evacuations and breakthrough discoveries, while making my heart heavy for the tragedies of great leaders and innovators. Thank you Sean for this experience!