Genius in France: An Idea and Its Uses by Ann Jefferson - review by Andy Martin

Andy Martin

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Genius in France: An Idea and Its Uses

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Princeton University Press 288pp £27.95 order from our bookshop
 

Is Stephen Hawking a genius? Putting myself in the shoes of some rival black-hole wallah, I might be tempted to say, hold on a nano-second. There are plenty of other people doing fine work in cosmology. So he gets to call ‘Hawking radiation’ after himself. And he gets a Hollywood biopic made about him and they give the guy pretending to be him an Oscar. OK, but is that genius or mainly mythification, hype and idolatry?

Ann Jefferson in Genius in France offers a génial and genial meditation on the question, focusing on a country that probably uses the word more than any other. Not only do we have the ‘genius of the French language’, but we also read about the ‘genius of peace’ (Napoleon, of

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