ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Books, Literature, and Writing»
  • Books & Novels»
  • Nonfiction

Passionate Minds- Voltaire and Emilie Du Chatelet, by David Bodanis

Updated on March 30, 2012
Source

A great biography is always a fabulous reading experience. When the subject is actually two biographies, and the characters are Voltaire and Emilie Du Chatelet, it becomes a truly transcendent experience.

Voltaire is one of my all-time favourite writers. I was actually hesitant to read his bio, for that reason. I love his writing for its ability to hit a point with a sledgehammer and a single hair at the same time. He didn’t disappoint me from the start, when I began this book. He’s as clever and as witty as his books.

Emilie Du Chatelet was that historically very unfashionable thing- A brilliant woman. She was the wife of a French aristocrat, another major handicap to intellectual expression of any kind. She was also Voltaire’s equal and his soul mate. She’s the only person, in fact, who really ever got through Voltaire’s ability to be simultaneously facile and devastating. Voltaire could kill with a few words, and very few people ever felt safe taking him on in his own territory, with good reason. Oscar Wilde could have taken lessons from him.

Emilie not only took him on, she had him truly fascinated. She could communicate with him, and actually challenged him. She and Voltaire entered separately into a scientific competition under pseudonyms, with Voltaire spending money like water and Emilie just using a prism and an upstairs window. They came in fifth and sixth in the competition.

Emilie also just happens to be the person who finally clarified Newton’s Law of Gravity and added the “squared”, which England’s erratic genius had left out of it. This equation is one of the ancestors of the Theory of Relativity. (Bodanis published a bestseller called E=mc2and knows the physics and maths history very well.) Emilie is now a semi-recognized giant of modern mathematics.

Passionate Minds is also great history, truly brought to life, not simply euphemized into coma. This isn’t a “theatrical” book with quaint anecdotes from the 17th century- It’s about two people, their relationship, and the fantastic, surreal world in which they lived. Pre-Revolutionary France is exposed in all its bizarre finery, with glitz, sleaze and stenches. The truly noble minds of the Enlightenment wade through the sewer of absurdities of a nation where the aristocracy were literally living in a different world.

There is no point whatsoever in giving a story outline. You need to read Bodanis’ background to understand even the basics and how the two met. Then you need to understand how they made the relationship work. Then you have to try to comprehend two very strong and certainly passionate minds living together. If you can put the book down, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. You may never forgive yourself.

Bodanis has done an incredible job of putting two highly elusive, hard to define and highly intelligent characters and a staggeringly convoluted, complex and multi-dimensional storyline into a comprehensible form. Writing this book cannot possibly have been easy.

If you’re looking for a thankless task as a writer, try piecing together someone else’s life, and with two people of this degree of difficulty as subjects the risk of mistakes and omissions is extremely high. It’s hard enough if the subject is alive, let alone hundreds of years later. You have to dig through virtual gold seams- If you can find the gold at all. I would think that the research was as fascinating as the book became. Not much else would explain the depth and sensitivity of the writing and the very well organized, excellent storyline approach.

(Writers please note- You could actually read this book as a benchmark standard in biographical writing. It really is exemplary.)

This is one of the very few books I’ve ever read which actually enters a very real and very different world, a world few even suspect existed. Expect an education as well as a fantastic book.


Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)