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Bertrand Russell: 1921-1970, The Ghost of Madness
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Bertrand Russell: 1921-1970, The Ghost of Madness [Hardcover]

Ray Monk
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 20, 2001
In the second half of his life, Bertrand Russell transformed himself from a major philosopher, whose work was intelligible to a small elite, into a political activist and popular writer, known to millions throughout the world. Yet his life is the tragic story of a man who believed in a modern, rational approach to life and who, though his ideas guided popular opinion throughout the twentieth century, lost everything. Russell's views on marriage, religion, education, and politics attracted legions of devoted followers and, at the same time, provoked harsh attacks from every direction. On the one hand, he was stripped of his post at New York's City College because he was thought to be a bad influence on his students, and on the other, he was awarded the Order of Merit, the Nobel Prize in literature, and a lifetime Fellowship of Trinity College, Cambridge. He lived to be ninety-seven, and as he became older he became increasingly controversial. Monk quotes Russell's telegrams to Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis, an influence that Russell and his followers believed tipped the balance toward peace. Russell devoted his last years to a campaign organized by his secretary to lend support to Che Guevara's call for a globally coordinated revolutionary struggle against "U.S. imperialism." Until now, this last campaign has been misunderstood as a -- perhaps misguided, but nevertheless innocent -- plea for world peace. Monk reveals it was no such thing. Drawing on thousands of documents collected at the Russell archives in Canada, Monk steers through the turbulence of Russell's public activities, scrutinizing his sometimes paradoxical and often outrageouspronouncements. Monk's focus, however, is on the tragedy of Russell's personal life, and in revealing this inner drama Monk has relied heavily on the cooperation of Russell's surviving relatives and access to previously unexamined legal and private correspondence. A central player in Russell's life was his first son, John. Russell applied the methods of the new science of child psychology in his parenting, believing that a new generation of children could be reared to be "independent, fearless, and free." But instead of being a model of this new generation, John became anxious, withdrawn, and eventually schizophrenic. Nor was John's daughter Lucy (who was Russell's favorite grandchild) to be a model of the new generation; gradually she grew so emotionally disturbed that, at the age of twenty-six, she took her own life. "The Ghost of Madness" completes the most searching examination yet published of Bertrand Russell's unique life and work. Together with Ray Monk's highly praised first volume of the biography, "The Spirit of Solitude," this is the classic account of an extraordinary man who championed the great ideas of the twentieth century and was all but destroyed by them. It is a portrait of the mind of a century.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This rich, variegated biography (Monk's second and final volume after The Spirit of Solitude, 1872-1921) starts off on a happy note for Russell, with his second marriage (of four) and the longed-for birth of a son. Unfortunately, from that point on, things only go downhill for him emotionally. Throughout his life, Russell (1873-1970) felt that he might go insane. He believed very much in romantic love but was apparently incapable of truly loving anyone. This emotional insecurity led him to multiple liaisons outside of his marriages (at the age of 64, his third marriage was to a 20-year-old) and strained relationships with his two children. Particularly upsetting to Russell was the homosexuality of his son, since he was on record as saying that homosexuality was the consequence of bad parenting. These domestic problems aside, Monk does a marvelous job of covering the highlights of the last half of Russell's long life: his Nobel prize in literature, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto against nuclear proliferation, his imprisonment for antinuclear protests, his social and political philosophy, and his contributions to logic and analytic philosophy. Highly recommended for academic and public library collections. Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, DC
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

One of the great logicians of modern times, Bertrand Russell lived a life that defies all syllogisms. In the second volume of what is sure to establish itself as the definitive biography, Monk lays bare the strange paradoxes that bedeviled the great philosopher during the last six decades of his very long life. Careful scholarship shreds the illusion of success created by Russell's elevation to the Order of Merit and by his surprising selection for a Nobel Prize in literature. What then stands exposed is the conceptual confusion that increasingly clogged Russell's public pronouncements in his later years, as well as the personal betrayals that poisoned his private life. It is thus a figure of tragedy not triumph that Monk limns in this nuanced chronicle, recounting how Russell lost his grip on serious philosophy, squandered his literary gifts in hack journalism, repeatedly failed in his marital and parental relationships, and embarrassed himself in his politics. To be sure, it is still a modern titan that Monk shows his readers--one who deflected the lives of Einstein, Eliot, and Trotsky. But it is a titan who ascended to the pantheon shrouded in shadows of pathos. Sure to endure as a standard reference for decades. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st Free Press Ed edition (March 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743212150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743212151
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,005,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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124 of 133 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting: but a hostile caricature, not a Life April 21, 2001
By Laon
When great and important people merge productively, then fall out bitterly, the reverberations often last for generations. Their admirers continue the quarrel long after the original protagonists are dead, often with more passion than the protagonists themselves. Plato and Aristotle?s respective followers engaged in passionate mutual denunciation from medieval times to the C19th, though they couldn?t raise much heat now. Wagner and Nietzsche provide a 19th century example, Lennon and McCartney a twentieth century one. The Wittgenstein-Russell break-up has to date bubbled under with fewer publicly noticeable manifestations (an example before Monk's book is the portrayal of Russell in Derek Jarman's entertaining film "Wittgenstein"), but we will hear more of it.
The breakup was really not that dramatic. Russell recognised Wittgenstein's brilliance and persuaded him to take up philosophy, treating him with considerable and apparently typical generosity at both a material and intellectual level. For a while the two men were colleagues and friends, until Wittgenstein broke away on finding his own philosophical direction. Russell admired Wittgenstein's early work but was dismayed by the rest, considering it a journey into mysticism. (And indeed Wittgenstein is one pavingstone on the road that led to Derrida, though fortunately he is much more than that.)
Their friendship ended with some anger and mutual disappointment but no real scenes, no dramatic denunciations. Wittgenstein and Russell attended the same social events long after the breakup, including the famous incident where Wittgenstein waved a poker, threateningly in some accounts, at Karl Popper. (Russell's stern, "Wittgenstein, put that poker down!
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Don't get me wrong, I am a serious Ray Monk fan, and a serious Russell devotee, but that's just the problem.
Ray Monk, although he puts Russell's mathematical achievements at the pinnacle of human endeavour, finds everything else about Russell to be pathetic and disgusting.
This book, which is about the second half of Russell's life (and Ray Monk has written a biography of the first half called 'The Spirit Of Solitude' which is equally compulsive reading, but suffers from the same love-hate relationship with Russell) has much more biographical material than any previous book on Russell BUT almost every new fact is framed from Ray Monk's perspective of disdain and contempt.
Russell had a traumatic childhood, with the death of his sister (diphtheria) then that of his mother and father coming in rapid succession at about the age of four, followed by a mostly isolated upbringing by his grandparents.
Instead of finding this tragic early influence a basis for sympathy and understanding, Monk uses it as a basis for finding a river of underlying insanity and evil flowing beneath the actions and writings of what he considers to be a monster who should not have lived past the completion of his mathematical masterpiece.
Just as it is important to have a biography written by someone who is not blind to the faults of their subject, it is also important to have the biographer not hate their subject, or have some kind of grudge against them or some aspect of their lives.
Monk cannot bear the fact that Russell does not live up to Monk's lofty expectations, that a god of mathematics, a subject of absolute moral purity, has human frailties and imperfections.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing tale of a complex life October 10, 2001
Ray Monk's biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his first volume of Bertrand Russell, are two of the finest biographies of the twentieth century. While this second volume of Bertrand Russell's life covers the period after his great work in logic and mathematics (and may thus be less fascinating to readers primarily interested in this work), it still has much to offer. This is the fullest treatment to date of Russell's complicated and tragic family life: of the impact which his life had on those around him.
Russell is often thought of as a great campaigner for peace: Ray Monk shows what was left aside when Russell devoted himself to that campaign. The biography, though, is not merely an exposure of the private flaws of a great public figure: there are moments of charm and comedy within the family life too, as when Katherine describes her father on the beach looking "a little like a cockatoo", with his big red sunburned nose, twinkling eyes, crest of white hair and abrupt laughter. There is also a comic side to a hysterical campaign against Russell in America in 1940, when he was denied a lecturing position (in mathematics and logic) because he was alleged to be " lecherous, salacious, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, atheistic, irreverent, narrow-minded, bigoted and untruthful", a description more remarkable for its love of adjectives than for its acuity.
Much of the book, however, is harrowing reading: all the more so because some of Russell's best intended initiatives (his conviction that he must not let his baby son see that he adored him) had predictably disastrous results. The most tragic life in the Russell family, and the one which Ray Monk is the first to do full justice to, though, is that of Lucy Russell, Russell's granddaughter. Reading the last pages of this book, it is difficult not to agree with Monk that Russell (and his entire family) was, indeed, haunted by the ghosts of madness.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars A smear campaign
The biography of Bertrand Russell by Ray Monk is essentially a smear campaign.

The following book review by Sylvia Nasar tells it best...... Read more
Published 10 months ago by RLBell
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely essential for understanding Russell -- especially his...
I have been taken aback by the reviews which state that this book a) depicts Russell as a monster or b) loses "objectivity" through the use of written materials and... Read more
Published 12 months ago by D. Kovacs
1.0 out of 5 stars More mean-spirited machinations from Ray Monk
I borrowed this book from a friend, but unfortunately I couldn't bear to keep reading beyond about the halfway point. Read more
Published on April 3, 2013 by john1411
2.0 out of 5 stars Examples of Monk's anti-Russell Bias
As other reviews point out, Monk, who worships Wittgenstein and was generally sympathetic in treating the first half of Russell's life, turns totally negative in the second volume. Read more
Published on June 22, 2008 by Rudolph V. Dusek
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks Ray!
Having read "Wittgenstein", then vol 1 of this biography, this was a natural and exciting follower. I certainly have to wonder what connection there is to a life associated, at... Read more
Published on February 10, 2007 by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Autobiography vs. biography
Because of Russell's political views (his opposition to war and U.S. imperialism) he has always been the subject of attacks by other intellectuals (the late Sidney Hook is a prime... Read more
Published on October 30, 2003 by Johnathon Paul Cain
5.0 out of 5 stars A tormented volcanic island who spilled a lot of lavae
This exceptional book is a sequel to The Spirit of Solitude, written by Ray Amok, which covers the first 50 years of Russell's life, and which could be summarized by achieving... Read more
Published on May 16, 2003 by Roberto P. De Ferraz
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable biography.
The chilling story of Bertrand Russell's disastrous later life: his ferocious battles with his children, wives and mistresses, his financial needs covered by second-rate newspaper... Read more
Published on August 27, 2002 by Luc REYNAERT
4.0 out of 5 stars Painful revelations for Russell lovers
I wanted to name my son "Russell" (if I had a son), at one point. In college and (philosophy) grad school I was a tremendous admirer of Russell, in particular his... Read more
Published on May 22, 2002 by L. B. Clark
1.0 out of 5 stars Pulp!
The book is essentially a form of ?tabloid scholarship.? Mr. Monk is more interested in bedroom tales than with the impact of the awe-inspiring humanism of Earl Russell. Read more
Published on December 3, 2001 by Khaled El-bizri
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