"Many French intellectuals have the narcissistic tendency to expound theories without reference to reality, to fancy the well-said over the well-thought. Scientists have substance, but many don't want to write for the public. Vulgarisation [as the French call popular science writing] is seen as gross."

So says Odile Jacob, a young woman who has coaxed scientists into writing best-sellers and launched an instant-success publishing company, Editions Odile Jacob.

Yes, the name does ring a bell. Odile is the daughter of Francois Jacob, the Pasteur Institute's Nobel Prize-winning biologist.

"I grew up in an intellectual, male-dominated environment," says Madame Jacob. "I have three brothers; when I was a girl and my father thought I did something right, he complimented me with 'That's a good boy!'"

She remembers her father launching "immense intellectual conversations. I wanted to keep up, so at 16 I started reading authors such as Spinoza and Descartes."


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