Russell: The Great Philosophers (The Great Philosophers Series)

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9780415923866: Russell: The Great Philosophers (The Great Philosophers Series)

First published in 1999. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.

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Review:

Volume I of Ray Monk's life of Bertrand Russell is a penetrating and highly critical portrait of one of this century's most influential intellectual figures. Monk's talents as a writer and his knowledge of philosophy produce clear and lucid prose that is sophisticated in its understanding, yet doesn't shy away from the dishy details that make the book compelling. This initial volume takes us through the first fifty years of Russell's private, public, and intellectual life. We follow Russell through his boyhood and schooling, his two marriages and countless love affairs, his friendships with eminent intellectuals such as Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot (plus an affair with Eliot's wife Vivien), and the members of the Bloomsbury Group, up to the birth of Russell's son in 1921. The inner Russell is tumultuous, fighting off fears of madness, and full of insatiable longings. We also see Russell's public life: his outspoken commitment to pacifism which ultimately led to his imprisonment, as well as his early advocacy and later disillusionment with socialism. Ray Monk is particularly adept at explicating Russell's philosophy: his desire to bring an end to interminable philosophical debates by developing new techniques for the logical analysis of philosophical problems. In Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Monk demonstrated that cracking good stories exist in the arcana of academic philosophy and in the lives of philosophers. The vastness of Russell's life and the breadth of his interests, in addition to the brilliance of his mind, makes Monk's story all the more captivating.

From Kirkus Reviews:

This first volume of Monk's biography cohesively, skeptically analyzes the aristocratic philosopher's mathematically logical intellect, Victorian purposefulness, and Edwardian mores. While T.S. Eliot offered a thinly veiled portrait of Russell in the figure of the disturbing, priapic Mr. Apollinax, Monk (Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, 1990) finds a more suggestive portrait in the Mephistophelean, misanthropic Dr. Mallako in Russell's own short story ``Satan in the Suburbs.'' Monk locates the key to Russell's curious mix of characteristics (cold intellectual pursuits, private passions, loudly proclaimed public stands on issues such as pacifism) in his deep sense of alienated solitude, touched with fears of madness. Without overstating his case, Monk goes back to the orphaned Russell's miserable, spiritually imprisoned childhood under his grandmother's Puritanical care, enlivened only by his discovery of geometry and Shelley. After being tutored at his ancestral home--which he called ``a family vault haunted by the ghosts of maniacs''--Russell shook off his religious upbringing and took up philosophy in earnest at Cambridge. The revelation of his family's streak of insanity, however, tainted his engagement to Alys Pearsall Smith and haunted Russell. Monk gives a convincing, meticulous account of Russell's brilliant development with Alfred North Whitehead of ``logical atomism,'' explored in Russell's influential works The Principles of Mathematics and Principia Mathematica, deftly interweaving these explorations with a record of Russell's turbulent life during this fertile period. His marriage was disappointing, and he began a tumultuous love affair with Lady Ottoline Morrell (the first of many liaisons). Devoting the book's last half to Russell's pacifist activities during WW I, Monk takes Russell from cloistered don to international figure, and even hopeful father. In Russell's paradox of a life, Monk uncompromisingly, enlighteningly reveals a complex mixture of caddishly cold behavior, profound intellectual passion, and a fierce social conscience. (illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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