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Passionate Minds

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  506 ratings  ·  89 reviews
It was 1733 when the poet and philosopher Voltaire met Emilie du Châtelet, a beguiling—and married—aristocrat who would one day popularize Newton’s arcane ideas and pave the way for Einstein’s theories. In an era when women were rarely permitted any serious schooling, this twenty-seven-year-old’s nimble conversation and unusual brilliance led Voltaire, then in his late thi...more
Hardcover, 373 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Crown Publishing Group (NY) (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,270)
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Kathleen
Well, with that title it had better be good, I say! An engaging read about a woman born in the wrong century: her brilliance is matched only by a handful of mathematicians and scientists in her day, yet at times she worked in secret so as not to feed the insecurities of her lover Voltaire. Their long and complex relationship reads at times like a romance novel, at times like high adventure. In turn they lust after each other, inspire each other, compete against each other, cheat on each other, r...more
Trevor
As I sit watching religious fanatics bring the enlightenment to an end I can't help reading things about the enlightenment and regretting witnessing the end of that great project. I've a friend who is much more obsessed with this than I am, but obsessed I am and will probably remain.

This is a book born from another book - E=mc2. This is a much better book than that, but the part about Emilie du Chatelet in E=mc2 was probably the best bit in that book too. This book would have been improved by in...more
Emily
The is an excellent glimpse into the life of a little known, but remarkable French woman. Emilie du Chatelet had a mind that not even the master of intellect, Voltaire, could hold a candle to her scientific and mathematical prowess.

The style is unique, as it reads more like a novel than an historical recount of 18th c. France. It is superbly researched and threaded together through the many extant letters of Voltaire. His early life is given rich historical context and the author does well to hu...more
Shayne
This was a wonderful read. It’s the story of Émilie du Châtelet, a mathematician, theoretical physicist, and philosopher. She and Voltaire were lovers for several years, and they remained devoted friends for the remainder of Émilie’s short life.

This is a story a writer of fiction would hardly dare invent. Romance, political intrigue, duels, financial scams, complex machinations with royalty and their hangers-on; Émilie’s life would seem extraordinary even without her significant contributions in...more
Caryn Sobel
Nov 27, 2008 Caryn Sobel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: beginners studying thought in the Enlightenment period.
The personal story of Emilie du Chatelet and Voltaire got old pretty quickly for me. Although I am sure the author drew his conclusions about their motivations from extensive reading of their letters and other writings, these were glossed over superficially, and it gave the book a pop-psychology feel. The dynamics of the working relationship between the two was more interesting than their romance, especially for any of us who work closely with partners in our fields.

I was interested in the hist...more
Kimberly
I absolutely loved this book. As well, I found the title spot on! Although nonfiction, at times the events within it read more like a novel. Bodanis actually discovered Emilie du Chatelet while researching another book he was writing about Einstein. What he discovered was a thunderbolt of a woman, whose scientific studies were a prelude to some of the greatest discoveries in physics, including Einstein's theory of relativity.

Amazingly, the book does not get bogged down with mathematical and sci...more
Wendy Bertsch
For years, I've been looking for a good biography of Emilie du Chatelet -- and Voltaire has always been a favorite of mine. This one is superb. Focusing on the relationship between the two, Bodanis gives us a satisfying picture of their brilliant lives without overburdening the book with a padding of irrelevant minutiae.
Voltaire's foibles keep the book lively, and while Emilie appears to have been the stabilizing force between them, the immoderate passion leading to her untimely death is present...more
Jude Keen
The largely unknown story of Emilie du Chatelet ((1706-1749), her work and her lifelong love affair and friendship with Voltaire. A brilliant mathematician and physicist in an age when women were mostly illiterate, she had an indefatigable passion for science and was responsible for furthering and popularizing the work Newton She was an original thinker about the nature of light and energy, far ahead of her time. The book is full of the colour of 18th C France, passionate love affairs, midnight...more
Elizabeth
Oct 23, 2006 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Science Lovers and Historical book lovers
This book arrived at my office for preview and I picked it up. I wasn't expecting much, but instead thoroughly enjoyed reading about the history of pre-revolutionary France and a women who was incredibly modern for her time. She elaborated on Newton's theories and Voltaire had a hell of a time trying to keep up.

Voltaire was also pretty amazing, not only was he a renegage poet and playwright but he was also a savvy business men who bought and sold in order to fund his writing habit.

I also reall...more
Erica
I have been on a quest to find books about the many forgotten women who have been pioneers in sciences (see my review for Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries). A friend had excitedly recommended Emilie du Chatelet as a subject of study, and this was the first book available at the library that covered her life. For those who are unaware, Emilie du Chatelet was a mathematician and one of the first geniuses of the Age of Enlightenment. Her translation of...more
Remy
Jul 26, 2014 Remy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Classic Literature/Mathematics dual majors?
Recommended to Remy by: Dot Alloway
Not a bad read, depending on what you're looking for. Given the very disparate natures of the two great personages this book chronicles, one might approach it from two main angles. Things look very different from Voltaire's eyes than from Émilie du Châtelet's, after all. By and large, the author does a very good job focusing on where the two converge. There are plenty of other interesting facets of 18th century France presented as well, of course.

As a Mathematics major, I was a little disappoint...more
David Fulmer
This biography of the 18th century French aristocrat Émilie du Châtelet who managed to defy the conventions of her time and acquire an education in, and make important contributions to, multiple scientific fields glides through the culture and society of an intellectually important era of Western European history. The affair Émilie had with the author Voltaire provides the eponymous passion and the book is both a biography of her and a biography of him, at least up until the death of his lover i...more
Paula
More on 18th century French scientist/ philosopher Emilie du Chatelet, although this rollicking non-fiction tale focuses a bit more on Voltaire than on his friend and lover, & in any event, more on their relationship then on aspects of du Chatelet's life & work not contingent upon that relationship. I do love one episode related late in the book. After their carriage toppled over & while Voltaire & du Chatelet waited for their servants to return with help from the nearest town, t...more
dejah_thoris
Yet another brilliant women nearly lost to history due to her behavior and associations with a man of power. Bodanis does a wonderful job of bringing Emilie du Chatelet to life in Passionate Minds. Unlike previous biographies which focus on Voltaire and add Emilie as a sidenote, this book brings her incredible story into the spotlight. And with all the adventures she had with her husband, Voltaire, and several other male acquaintances, the work certainly makes for lively reading. Of course, Emil...more
Jenette
Emilie du Chatelet is one of my favorite women in math and science. Known as Issac Newton's collaborator, this is an excellent well researched biography about this brilliant mathmetician and physicist, her groundbreaking translation and commentary of Sir Issac Newton's Principia Mathematica, her study of Isaac Newton, Isaac Newton's arch rival and enemy Gottfried Leibniz, Willem 's Gravesande, her indepth study of the bible trying to understand God better, and her career changing inspiration of...more
Stephen Burns
A very well crafted biography of two lovers -- and two great minds -- that paved the way for the Enlightenment. We know the poet, Voltaire, he of the great Candide, among his many other works. Much less is known about his lifelong companion and on-again, off-again lover, Emilie du Chatelet, an educated and brilliant scientist whose work on Newton help paved the way for an entire century of scientists.

Set in the early 18th Century, the biography reads like a romance, a history text, and a volume...more
Jason
A wonderful book, especially for anyone interested in the history of science or the early Enlightenment. From this book I really got a feel for life in the early 1700s in France. It does a good job of showing you what was thought, what was possible and what couldn't be conceived of. As someone that has read my share of history's of science, I'm chagrined to never have heard of Emilie du Chatelet. She was an amazing woman and her relationship with Voltaire was groundbreaking (given the time and u...more
Charity
This is quite possibly one of the BEST books I have ever read. Strangely enough it was recommended to me in a bar, by a girl who had a degree in French History, specifically the French Revolution. We were talking about Voltaire and how I disliked Candide and she told me it was an allegory and said I should read this book.

Although I have a degree in Quantum Mechanics I had never heard of Emilie DuChatelet. How surprising it was to find out that she was one of the first people to translate Newton'...more
Joe
Jun 18, 2011 Joe rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history and science readers
Recommended to Joe by: TV show on Einstein
I loved the main character, Emilie du Chatelet, who was brilliant, passionate, controversial, attractive AND a Scientist in a age where women were considered the lesser sex. I've often read about the French Revolution and the Napoleon rise to party - and have often had a hard time reconciling the brutality of the French revolution. This books indirectly explains the power structure that gave all advantages to the aristocracy (who were not taxed) and the burden to the lower and middle class (who...more
Eric Kibler
An interesting book about the lifelong relationship between Voltaire and Emilie du Chatelet. Emilie was a mathematician and physicist who furthered understanding of Newton's work and expanded on it. Unfortunately, being female, her work didn't get the recognition it should have gotten at the time.

There are some great anecdotes in the book, imparting an intimate understanding of the daily lives (including the love lives) of numerous major and minor personages, and also an understanding of the int...more
Jrobertus
Passionate minds describes the loves and works of Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet. He is the famous enlightenment poet, playwright, essayist and man of letters; she is a brilliant scientist and mathematician, noted for her narration of Newton’s Principia. The book is interesting in relating the work and the times. We see the corruption of the French upper classes, their capricious use of power, their self indulgence and their anti intellectualism. The rage of the Revolution becomes very understa...more
Benjamin
This is, first and foremost, as story of the decades long love affair between Emilie du Chatelet and Voltaire. The title surely doesn't lie. Unfortunately, I didn't find the love story particularly interesting. Voltaire and du Chatelet did all those standard (and quite boring, when you're on the outside looking in) things that lovers do -- talked late into the night, cooed in silly love notes to each other, and had lots and lots of sex.

What I found much more interesting was the societal context...more
Jennifer de Guzman
Voltaire, a literary genius, and Emilie du Chatelet, a scientific genius, had a fascinating and complex relationship. David Bodanis depicts that interweaving of love, admiration, respect, insecurity, secrecy, betrayal and reconciliation. It is to his credit that he has written about an important relationship that has for some time not been given the attention it deserves. Bodanis's thesis is that Voltaire and Emilie provided models of thinking people in an unconventional relationship (she was a...more
Nick
I heard that this book was about some of the greatest minds of the enlightenment and their struggle to bring about a new world based on rationality, but what I saw was a book that couldn't go two pages without some sort of erotic reference or asinine pillow-talk. If these two were the height of enlightenment thinking, then we need to seriously reconsider putting the enlightenment on a pedestal. And if this book is merely an erotic fan-fiction of the lives of perfectly rational revolutionaries, t...more
Judith
I must admit I was a little skeptical at first, due to the word "scientific". I was afraid there'd be lots of science involved... in fact, while the science was touched upon, it wasn't overwhelming.

The book was an amazing read. Bodanis has a nice flow and he obviously knows a lot about the history involved. He's made great efforts (as you can see in the annotations) to use Voltaire's and Émilie du Chatelet's letters and words (albeit in translation where necessary).

I enjoyed not only the glimps...more
Sylvie
I’ve been meaning to read this for awhile, hoping to strengthen my background on the Enlightenment. The ridiculously long subtitle (The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Châtelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings, Seditious Verse, and the Birth of the Modern World) promises a great deal, but does it deliver? Yes and no.

This book’s forte is the behind-the-scenes picture it provides of two great Enlightenment thinkers and I woul...more
Zack
Sep 24, 2008 Zack rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of the Enlightenment or of strong women
Shelves: read-in-2008
The breezy title shouldn't scare you off; there's more to this book than a true-life Scarlet Pimpernel story. There's plenty of court intrigue, lover's tiffs, egos and scientific breakthroughs to keep one interested in what's happening, to be certain, but the part that made it worth the 4th star to me was the context that Bodanis provides for the 18th century. Item: the author carefully points out how du Chatelet and Voltaire enjoyed their privacy at their home at Cirey, and how this way of rega...more
Ahinch
This book was fascinating from start to finish. Nonstop corruption, everyone has a mistress, write a bad word about somebody and go to jail, brand new ideas, parties with interesting people and more. If you are a fan of Voltaire, read this book but know it will mention the good, bad and the ugly about him such as his ego, hypocrisy, hypochondria, desire for fame, not being as smart as Emilie, etc. To top it off, Emilie shines as the ultimate feminist who many men run from because of their shame...more
Bruce
A very interesting biography of a woman who was quite likely smarter than Voltaire and most men of her times. However, much of her work was largely ignored because it was the work of a woman. While the book is partly a biography of Voltaire as well, it is the actions of the two that make it an interesting read. I often wonder how much better and farther society might have progressed to the current point if women had been given the same opportunities and credit as men. Unfortunately, Madame du Ch...more
Elena
This book rushes along as much as its subjects, covering a chaotic time in history lived out by two chaotic people. I wanted more Emilie and less Voltaire, but them's the breaks.
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