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Autobiography (Routledge Classics)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Russell lived a long and fruitful life, and for most of it he had been a very controversial figure. You shouldn't read Russell just to agree or to disagree with him; you should read him to know what he has to say about a topic. The great historian Arnold Toynbee compared him to Plato's philosopher who is responsible for descending back to the cave to enlighten those that have not seen the light. One of Russell's most important characteristics is that he was a great writer, and this truly shows in his autobiography. Reading this book, one is inclined to ask himself over and over again "what have I done so far?" It's probably not fair to try to compare yourself to Russell because the only thing that would lead to is insanity. However, this book is a window to one of the greatest minds of recent times and everyone should come and take a peak.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon January 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, and social critic, who also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950; the other volumes of his autobiography are The Autobiography Of Bertrand Russell: 1914-1944 and Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1944-1969. He began this 1951 book with the statement, "Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind... I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy... [and] because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined." (Pg. 3)

He recalls that as his older brother was tutoring him in Euclid, Russell was "disappointed that he started with axioms. At first I refused to accept them unless my brother could offer me some reason for doing so, but he said, 'If you don't accept them we cannot go on,' and as I wished to go on, I reluctantly admitted them pro tem. The doubt as to the premisses of mathematics which I felt at that moment remained with me, and determined the course of my mathematical work." (Pg. 40)

He observes, "The [1900 International Congress of Philosophy] Congress was a turning point in my intellectual life, because I there met Peano... in the space of a few weeks, I discovered what appeared to be definitive answer to the problems which had baffled me for years... I was introducing a new mathematical technique, by which regions formerly abandoned to the vagueness of philosophers were conquered for the precision of exact formulae. Intellectually, the month of September 1900 was the highest point of my life." (Pg. 232-233)

Interestingly, he records what can only be described as a mystical experience he had in 1901: "Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless... At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me... The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded... But something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me..." (Pg. 234-235)

He admits, "The strain of unhappiness combined with very severe intellectual work, in the years from 1902 to 1910, was very great. At the time I wondered whether I should ever come out at the other end of the tunnel in which I seemed to be... in the end the work was finished, but my intellect never quite recovered from the strain. I have been ever since definitely less capable of dealing with difficult abstractions than I was before. This is part, though by no means the whole, of the reason for the change in the nature of my work." (Pg. 244-245)

He wrote (perhaps surprisingly, to some readers) to Gilbert Murray on December 12, 1902, "From heaven we may return to our fellow-creatures, not try to make our heaven here among them; we ought to love our neighbour through the love of God, or else our love is to mundane. At least so it seems to me. But the coldness of my own doctrine is repellent to me; except at moments when the love of God glows brightly." (Pg. 260)

Russell was one of the greatest intellectuals and public figures of the 20th century; his story is essential reading for anyone interested in philosophy, mathematics, politics, and modern history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
Before I've ordered this gorgeous book I had thought it can be some letters inside. I just don't think such way anymore.

Bad news for mathematicians -- there is no mathematics, good news for linguists -- some letters of Wittgenstein and Einstein are in German, letters of French mathematician Jean Nicod in original -- all translated into beautiful English, and index has special note for letter's part.

There is a chapter Principia Mathematica, but no chapter History of Western Philosophy; there are the chapters First Marriage and Second Marriage, but no Third Marriage and Fourth Marriage... However, my favourite chapters are especially good: Russia (travelling 1920) and China (travelling 1920). No synchronic table (what was done when). We all still have Wikipedia, hmm:)

No grumbling about content, the whole life from soup to nuts is before us by the eyes of author, and the author is one of few men understanding Mathematical Philosophy (!!!), so if you were interested in this book before, you will not loose your interest after.

On the condition that you have your favourite chair (of course, you have!), your favourite drink (...think better!), and simple in use touch-screen calculator, divide the total sum of pages on your usual quantity of pages per hour, and voilà, you have guaranteed time of pleasure!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon January 26, 2013
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, and social critic, who also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950; the other volumes of his autobiography are The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1872-1914 and Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1944-1969. He begins this 1956 book by stating, "The period from 1910 to 1914 was a time of transition. My life before 1910 and my life after 1914 was as sharply separated as Faust's life before and after he met Mephistopheles. I underwent a process of rejuvenation, inaugurated by Ottoline Morrell and continued by the War... it shook me out of my prejudices and made me think afresh on a number of fundamental questions. It also provided me with a new kind of activity, for which I did not feel the staleness that beset me whenever I tried to return to mathematical logic." (Pg. 3)

He admits, "Throughout my life I have longed to feel that oneness with large bodies of human beings that is experienced by the members of enthusiastic crowds. The longing has often been strong enough to lead me into self-deception. I have imagined myself in turn a Liberal, a Socialist, or a Pacifist, but I have never been any of these things, in any profound sense. Always the sceptical intellect, when I have most wished it silent, has whispered doubts to me, has cut me off from the facile enthusiasms of others, and has transported me to a desolate solitude." (Pg. 35)

He wrote in a 1916 letter, "I wrote a lot of stuff about Theory of Knowledge, which [Ludwig] Wittgenstein criticized with the greatest severity. His criticism, tho' I don't think you realized it at the time, was an event of first-rate importance in my life, and affected everything I have done since. I saw he was right, and I saw that I could not hope ever again to do fundamental work in philosophy... Wittgenstein persuaded me that what wanted doing in logic was too difficult for me... So I want to work quietly, and I feel more at peace as regards work than I have ever done since Wittgenstein's onslaught." (Pg. 66-67)

While recovering from a serious illness in China, he mused, "Lying in my bed feeling that I was not going to die was surprisingly delightful... I discovered... that life was infinitely sweet to me... there came heavy rains bringing the delicious smell of damp earth through the windows, and I used to think how dreadful it would have been to have never smelt that smell again... I have known ever since that at bottom I am glad to be alive. Most people, no doubt, always know this, but I did not." (Pg. 188)

He records wryly, "The Japanese journalists were continually worrying Dora [his wife] ... At last she became a little curt with them, so they caused the Japanese newspapers to say that I was dead. This news was forwarded by mail... It provided me with the pleasure of reading my obituary notices, which I had always desired without expecting my wishes to be fulfilled." (Pg. 189)

Of his A History of Western Philosophy, he states, "I was sometimes accused by reviewers of writing not a true history but a biased account of the events that I arbitrarily chose to write of. But to my mind, a man without a bias cannot write interesting history---indeed, if such a man exists... I think the best that can be done with a large-scale history is to admit one's bias and for dissatisfied readers to look for other writers to express an opposite bias. Which bias is nearer to the truth must be left to posterity." (Pg. 340-341)

Russell was one of the greatest intellectuals and public figures of the 20th century; his story is essential reading for anyone interested in philosophy, mathematics, politics, and modern history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
I was surprised to see the level of openess of this autobiography. Russell invites the reader into his mind and his heart and seems like he holds nothing back.

He seems completely unconcerned about how the reader will judge him, and that makes it a compelling read.

The biggest negative of this book for me was that the letters tend to get boring.
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on September 2, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Russell's autobiography is a masterly digest of his almost one hundred years of an action-packed and thought-packed life. His writing style is crisp and precise, both serious and in places hilarious, but never dull. Whether you like Russell's philosophy or not, he has the ability to makes difficult issues clear in a few sentences. And he is enlightening in the best sense of the word, in that whether you agree with him or not, you understand better for having read him.

-- Mike
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on March 29, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I hate philosophy but I love math. So this book dragged in places. But his personal life is very interesting. Also there are letters from all sorts of people and in most cases I did no know who they were. But the environment at Cambridge was interesting, and the lifestyle of Russell and his friends as they trotted all over Europe and America. Also you get a picture of his grandparent's generation.
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on January 10, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is surprisingly entertaining. Some of it no doubt goes over my head, but that's OK. There's enough in my head as it is. Also, the vendor did a terrific job. They sent me a book in really fine condition and they sent it post haste. Now if I could only find a plumber who would work pro bono.
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on April 23, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Since I was a teenager I admired Bertrand Russell as a free thinker and as an activist having a very,clear mind. Now for the first time I have the chance o reading his auto biography. Better than I expected.
Ivan Lippi
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on November 24, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I already owned the later autobiography, which was excellent, but this earlier account really 'fleshed out' who the man really was.
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