The Study of Wisdom

The second half of the life of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is not nearly as interesting as the first, when Russell did his major work in philosophy and mathematics and, through close contacts with the Bloomsbury Group, knew all the major writers of his time. In this second volume, Ray Monk picks his way through the trail of psychological wreckage caused by both Russell's fear of madness and his colossal vanity. With scant sympathy, Monk convincingly portrays Russell as emotionally maimed and incapable of loving, no longer dedicated to serious intellectual work, and "astonishingly out of touch with political reality." Frequently "superficial and dishonest," Russell lapsed into "empty rhetoric and blind dogmatism," dismissing rather than countering the arguments of his opponents. In this fascinating book, one of the great minds of the century is shown to have been a windbag and a bore.

Monk, author of a brilliant life of Wittgenstein (who destroyed the foundations of Russell's work), has a penetrating intelligence and vigorous narrative style. He has mastered the enormous amount of archival material and expertly exposes the weaknesses in Russell's fallacious arguments. (He misses one logical flaw, however. Russell states: "A hen, when scared by a motor-car, will rush across the road in order to be at home, despite thus risking its life, and in like manner, during the Blitz, I longed to...

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