La Dame d’Esprit: A Biography of the Marquise Du Châtelet

Written by Judith P. Zinsser
Review by Vicki Kondelik

Gabrielle Emelie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise Du Châtelet (1706-1749) was indeed a woman of ésprit, a bright star among the philosophes of the French Enlightenment. Her biography is a fascinating story of a spirited young woman fully engaged in her role as a noblewoman in the court of Louis XV who, while navigating those treacherous waters, studied, researched, and published her findings in natural philosophy. Professor Zinsser’s own research is worthy of her subject. Her scholarship is evident throughout the 292-page narrative documented in more than 100 pages of notes. Her imaginative reconstructions of events lend color to a sometimes plodding text. Nonetheless La Dame d’Esprit is a superb introduction to 18th century scientific thinking accessible to the layperson, and an incisive picture of European society still emerging from the Middle Ages.