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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of an astonishing woman
Émilie du Châtelet was a mathematician, a theoretical physicist, and a 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...
Published on 4 May 2011 by S. L. Parkinson

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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
David Bodanis has written some great science books, but this is something different. I was disapointed by it because I expected to read more about science, but it is mostly about the love affair between two French people in the 18th century. To be fair, that is what I ought to have expected from the title and the cover, but I hoped for some science as well. If you are...
Published on 15 July 2006 by Charlie T.


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of an astonishing woman, 4 May 2011
By 
S. L. Parkinson "Shayne Parkinson" (New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Émilie du Châtelet was a mathematician, a theoretical physicist, and a 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 mathematics and physics. This is a woman who translated Newton's "Principia", not just from Latin into French, but also casting the equations into a far more comprehensible calculus. And she did that in the last months of her life, during the pregnancy that she sensed would kill her.

Bodanis has an easy, highly readable style. The book has fairly copious end notes, and while I found myself wishing for more details of Émilie's work, they would have made the book much longer, and perhaps diluted its effect. He includes a long and inviting list of further reading. The one thing I felt the book lacked was an index; there are so many people named, and sometimes I wished I could quickly find where they'd appeared earlier in the book.

After her death, Voltaire wrote of her,

"I have lost the half of myself--a soul for which mine was made".

The story of this astonishing woman moved me more than many a novel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, 27 Aug 2006
This is the first biography that I have ever read and it has certainly pursuaded me of the merits of the genre. I have studied french political thought of the period but reading this book gave me a whole new insight into the consequences suffered by those, Emilie and Voltaire, who wished to take thinking and understanding forward. The style in which it is written avoids all the pitfalls of dry academic text as the story captures the imagination and takes you forward. The best of all worlds.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dull cover: brilliant book, 2 Dec 2008
Long before I read this book, three features had placed it firmly at the top of my Christmas hint list. First, it is set in my favourite period: that mid-eighteenth century era of artistic and scientific advancement that was to become known as The Enlightenment; secondly, because I knew its author's previous work, E=mc², which, despite its academically-sounding title, is the gripping story of Einstein's most famous discovery; and finally because I had heard its author speak fervently about it at the Hay Literature Festival.
The book's cover does not reveal - unless you recognise their pictures - that the "passionate minds" referred to are those of France's foremost woman physicist, Emilie du Châtelet, and the country's unquestioned literary genius, François-Marie Arouet - better known as Voltaire. The book is the story of their tempestuous affair.
Voltaire was a financial genius as well as a literary one, his astute investments ranging from importing Egyptian cotton via Marseilles in order to avoid import taxes - to rigging the State lottery to ensure that he acquired every ticket. His independent wealth gave his writing a devil-may-care quality: his characters skip from one subject to another like bees in a lavender patch, while his ironic humour and refusal to submit to censorship would sometimes gravely offend the King or the Church - and often both - causing him to spend much of his life either in the Bastille prison or in exile in England or Switzerland.
Emilie's genius showed itself in a more scholarly form, beginning by translating into French the theories of the 17th century English scientist, Isaac Newton, and later by devising experiments that challenged his conclusions.
For more than a decade, despite the fact that Emilie remained married to the Marquis of Châtelet-Lomont, she and Voltaire lived together in one of her husband's châteaux at Cirey, a small village in north-eastern France. Surprisingly, their intense relationship was punctuated by extra-curricular affairs by both parties: Emilie's part-time lover was the Marquis of Saint-Lambert, father of the child whose birth was the cause of her early death, while Voltaire's main dalliance was with his niece, Marie-Louise - to whom he returned after Emilie's death.
Although seldom mutually faithful, the partnership at Cirey was both collaborative and productive. Voltaire wrote many satirical poems, plays and essays there, establishing himself as the virtual chronicler of the Enlightenment movement, many of whose ideals are now enshrined in the European constitution. Emilie's researches were to result in the posthumous publication of her Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, a work now generally recognised as a major contribution to contemporary physics.
There is much to enjoy in Passionate Minds: it is an eighteenth century biography told in Romantic style; sympathetically, yet humorously, written, and scrupulously researched. It would make a great BBC costume drama.
Theirs was truly a passionate meeting of minds, an alliance that was best summarised in the words of Voltaire himself after Emilie's death: "I have lost half of myself".
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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected, 15 July 2006
By 
Charlie T. (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
David Bodanis has written some great science books, but this is something different. I was disapointed by it because I expected to read more about science, but it is mostly about the love affair between two French people in the 18th century. To be fair, that is what I ought to have expected from the title and the cover, but I hoped for some science as well. If you are interested in what happened in the French court in the 18th century you might like it. I gave it to my sister, who reads a lot of historical fiction, and she loved it; but she isn't interested in science. There is a little science in the book, but Bodanis didn't persuade me that his heroine was someone to rank up there with Newton.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Passionate Minds, Dull Book, 4 Aug 2007
This reader did not venture upon Passionate Minds with unreasonable expectations: a good yarn featuring an enlightened cast was all. Sadly, the effort was not worth the result. A middling tale, a tabloid history, and that most hideous of affectations, aspirations to wit on the part of the author. Claims to be liberating du Chatelet from the chauvinist past revealed less about her intellectual work than the descriptions of her appearance did of her breasts. Voltaire may well have been a hypochondriacal social climber, but he deserves better than lit crit 101 reviews of his work. The author seems extremely uncomfortable with the period: kings must be stupid & useless, aristocrats are not much better, merchants are hard working, peasants are earthy. When claiming that Voltaire's relationship with his niece was fine, because those things were more acceptable in such debauched times, Bodanis overlooks that minor inconvenience known as canon law. He also, presumably for reasons of humour, refers to Madame de Pompadour as Ms Poisson, combining historical innacuracy with silliness - this is not feminism, it is just plain wrong. The period and people covered by this book are fascinating in so many ways, yet the end result is shallow and dull.
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