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Passionate Minds

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  656 Ratings  ·  110 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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Kathleen
Aug 21, 2008 Kathleen rated it really liked it
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
Dec 08, 2007 Trevor rated it really liked it
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
Nancy
Apr 13, 2016 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed it very much! It was a nonfiction that read like a fiction. By this I mean it was not dry or boring.
I learned a great deal about Emilie & Voltaire. About how women were not appreciated for their intellect. I learned about the beginning of Enlightenment, the feelings of not working & the class distinction. I can see again what lead up to the Revolution. Thank goodness we no longer have to hide our love of knowledge & pride in working.
Marita
Having now read Voltaire in Love, I am upgrading this book to 5 stars as I liked it better than the one by Nancy Mitford.
Fergie
Oct 30, 2015 Fergie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A masterpiece of work by David Bodanis, Passionate Minds is the real-life retelling of the life of the astounding eighteenth century woman, Emilie du Chatelet, and the love affair she shared with perhaps the greatest known man from the Enlightenment -- Voltaire. This book was recommended to me by my sister. As I began to read, it became quickly evident that Du Chatelet was unfairly overshadowed by Voltaire in regard to the impact she had on the Enlightenment. Here is a woman who defied the custo ...more
Kimberly
Apr 20, 2015 Kimberly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 1/2 stars * 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 mathem
...more
Emily
Apr 14, 2008 Emily rated it really liked it
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
Jan 17, 2008 Shayne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
George
Aug 13, 2015 George rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
TMI! DISSAPOINTING.

“ ‘If I were king,’ she mulled in a later writing, ‘ women would be able to take part in all human rights, especially ones involving our reason.’ “—location 672/5457

What a terrific title: Passionate Minds. Hard to resist. What a disappointment that passions of the flesh seemed to hold such a gossipy, fascination for the author, David Bodanis.

A glimpse at the workings and the output of two brilliant minds of The Enlightment… priceless.

A feel for the ambiance, the attitudes,
...more
Remy
Jul 26, 2014 Remy rated it liked it
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
Caryn Sobel
Nov 27, 2008 Caryn Sobel rated it liked it
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
Jenette
May 12, 2013 Jenette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 27, 2013 Stephen Burns rated it it was amazing
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
Wendy Bertsch
Dec 01, 2010 Wendy Bertsch rated it really liked it
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
John
Apr 19, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book!

Just as the title says the book is about a love affair. However it is much more than that. It really was to me an historical unveiling of the role this brilliant woman, Emilie du Chatelet, played in the Enlightenment.

A most enjoyable and enlightening read.
Jude Keen
Jan 07, 2011 Jude Keen rated it really liked it
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 it was amazing
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
Fiona Hurley
I knew I would like Emilie du Chatelet when I found out that she used her superior counting skills to win money at gambling and then spent her winnings on books! This is the fascinating real-life story about a famous writer and a not-as-famous-as-she-should-be scientist. Recommended to anyone interested in pre-Revolutionary France, nerds in history, or the Enlightenment in general.
Jo Walton
This is the best kind of biography. If you know a reasonable amount already, it gives you lots of detail, but if you didn't then it fills it all in without any fuss. I got more out of this than if it had been my first trajectory across the Enlightenment, but if it had been, I'd still have been fine. I was completely ignorant of Emilie's contribitions to science, and it explained them brilliantly.

Beyond that, well, Emilie du Chatelet is awesome and there's lots of lovely Voltaire gossip. It's ni
...more
Travis Sherman
Feb 03, 2016 Travis Sherman rated it it was amazing
Brilliant mathematician and physicist, lover, French aristocrat, gambler -- Emilie du Chatelet's life makes for one truly fascinating read.
Brenda
Apr 10, 2016 Brenda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So interesting.....made me want to learn more about Voltaire and his life long love/companion Emilie du Chatelet. What great minds!!!
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
Samantha
Nov 30, 2015 Samantha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-books
I absolutely loved this book. Bodanis provides readers with fascinating information on Emilie du Chatelet - who I had never heard of, but everyone should get to know! The story is so well written that it is easy to get lost in Emilie and Voltaire's lives. The way Bodanis presents his research allows readers to gain an in-depth understanding of French society in the early 18th century, while simultaneously getting to know two of the key players in the early years of the Enlightenment on a very pe ...more
Kelsey
Feb 01, 2016 Kelsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting that all 4 people who've previously reviewed this book have made it seem much more about Emilie than Voltaire, which is certainly not the case. It is extremely well balanced, and well researched. Given that I've read a number of books on Voltaire, and a good portion of his oeuvre, I picked it up for the Voltaire interest and was not disappointed. Even though my favourite biography of the man (Voltaire Almighty) was mentioned in the book, 'Passionate Minds' is not a re-hash of facts I ...more
Paula
Nov 23, 2011 Paula rated it liked it
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
Aug 29, 2013 dejah_thoris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
Jason
May 07, 2008 Jason rated it really liked it
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
Apr 10, 2013 Charity rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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 really liked it  ·  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
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