Emilie du Châtelet’s brilliant mind is nurtured by her elderly father, a rarity for a female in early 18th century France. Fascinated by mathematics, barred from the academia that supported the sciences, Emilie studies on her own. Years ahead of her time, the social strictures of the day keep her from reaching her full potential. After a marriage of convenience, Emilie meets the notorious poet Voltaire and falls in love. Voltaire, a wit who criticizes the hierarchy of French society and religious superstition, writes about the pursuit of happiness and free will, a harbinger of the Age of Enlightenment. Voltaire and Emilie’s volatile relationship brings them extreme happiness and sorrow as they both delve into science to replace fundamental religious beliefs.
While the author does explore her scientific experiments with light and her renowned translation of Newton’s Principia, published ten years after her death, du Châtelet remains a woman defined by her male relationships. The book is a delicious and racy read, an intriguing treatise on astronomical science, 18th century life, and the enlightenment that led to the demand for equal rights by the average citizen.