Michel Pinault

Frédéric Joliot-Curie Publication date : April 1, 2000

This is the first biography of Frédéric Joliot-Curie, the founder of French nuclear research and winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935. For many, he represents the political commitment of French intellectuals in the struggle against Fascism in the twentieth century. In 1950, during the height of the cold war, he was dismissed from his position as high commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In his biography of Joliot-Curie, Michel Pinault has gone beyond the strict limits of his subject’s life. Against the detailed backdrop of a tormented historical period, he focuses on the scientific milieu of the era and brings it admirably to life. He describes the relations between the scientific community and the various strongholds of power, i.e., the political, business, and military establishment. The story of Joliot-Curie’s life touches upon a variety of fields, from the history of science to social and political history. Joliot-Curie was a highly controversial figure: a humanist and a pacifist, he was nonetheless responsible for the deployment of the first French nuclear reactor. He has also been criticised for some of his actions during the German Occupation, and for concurrently holding posts of great responsibility in the AEC and the French Communist Party. His life illustrates the transition from traditional science, limited to the world of academia, to “Big Science”, with major national and international repercussions.

Michel Pinault holds an agrégation and a doctorate in history from the University of Paris I. He is interested in interdisciplinary studies, working to reconcile the history of science with social and cultural history.