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Bertrand Russell : The Spirit of Solitude 1872-1921 Hardcover – October 11, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0684828022 ISBN-10: 0684828022 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (October 11, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684828022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684828022
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 Publishers Weekly

At age 30, philosopher and philanderer Russell (1872-1970) wrote, "Abstract work must be allowed to destroy one's humanity." His life into his 50th year is the subject of Monk's first volume of a two-part biography. As previous biographers have found, his competition is Russell's own mesmerizing yet unreliable memoirs. Monk (Wittgenstein) quotes extensively from Russell's correspondence and autobiographical writings, but always with a gloss on the facts. Russell's compulsive womanizing kept at bay loneliness, and worse. His mother and father died when he was a boy, and he saw insanity in his aristocratic lineage. Mathematics, his first love, lay on the edge of philosophy, and he feared that inquiring too deeply into the wellsprings of the self would lead to madness. The loss, also, of Victorian certainties intensified his sense of solitude, and his compensatory quests into logic, politics and sex left him questioning (as Monk puts it) "whether it was better to be sane with lies or mad with truth." When the biography breaks off, he has married for a second time, been to jail, been expelled from his Cambridge professorship and written landmark books on mathematics, politics and philosophy. By then D.H. Lawrence has wounded Russell by accusing him of a paradox: that while Russell loves women sexually and loves logic professionally, "It is not the hatred of falsity which inspires you. It is the hatred of people, of flesh and blood." Mining Russell's papers to let him speak for himself, Monk lets him explain?and betray?himself. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Thoughts like: remember this!
W. Jamison
It was such a difficult book to read that even Russell expected that no more than a handfull of great mathematicians could read and understand what was there meant.
Roberto P. De Ferraz
Secondly, Russell was more than an academic philosopher, he was a public figure who was more well known than his philosophy.
Parker Benchley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Ray Monk makes it clear in this book that he dislikes Russell.
As a hitherto ardent Russophile, this ought to have given me cause for concern that I would find problems with this book.
I nonetheless recommend it to even those of a similar disposition to myself, it is probably the best biography (of any subject) that I have ever read.
It attempts to be more probing and insightful (and thus results in being more contentious) than anything I have ever read concerning Russell's motivations, both conscious and otherwise.
For someone who has taken us so far towards appreciating the tragic explanations for their subject's weaknesses, Ray Monk himself perhaps needs to explain why dislike has emerged rather than sysmpathy.
Or perhaps answering this question is ultimately a job for this biographer's biographer?
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dennis E. Hamilton on January 2, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This tiny book amazes me. Rather than attempt a biography, Monk focuses on one theme of Russell's life: his adventure with mathematics and the drive to reduce all of mathematics to logic, crystallized as a pristine whole of pure beauty -- the ultimate achievement of rational thought. Retracing the inspiration, successes, and ultimate defeat of that program, interpolating through the stages of Russell's own writings, Monk provides us with a glimpse of the integrity of a life committed to taking a major philosophical inquiry to an honest but unwanted and discouraging conclusion. In retracing the path of Russell's mathematical passion, Monk provides brief thumbnails of the major concepts that illuminated the route to today's mathematical logic and its foundational construction: one that in itself demonstrates the impossibility of a purely logical system that resolves all of mathematics as a wonder of deductive reasoning.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is really a great book. It has everything a book should have, a good plot, interesting characters (or character, as the case may be), topology, set theory, Hegelianism, and a fight with Goedel. Monk is amazingly good at explaining complicated things but also at getting across to the reader why the complicated things are so important. I should really stop repeating myself, but what is amazing about this book is its marriage of detail and plain good writing. It is a model of how this sort of thing (exposition of ideas) ought to be done. Kudos to Monk for a great book.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on December 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Question: How would Ray Monk follow his wildly successful biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein? Answer: He takes on the life of Wittgenstein's teacher, and the most public philosopher of the 20th century, Bertrand Russell.
There are a myriad of biographies of Russell in and out of print; even the most ardent Russell admirer could easily admit burnout on this score. Russell himself penned an autobiography that lends itself more to literature than fact. Why should one spend money and time on yet another biography?
Two reasons should suffice, I hope. Monk is a thorough biographer, but not an adoring one. Although some others have also been critical, none brings to the subject the background in analytical philosophy that Monk does, and this is an important factor when discussing the life and thought of a philosopher, for both are obviously and subtly interwined in the subject.
Secondly, Russell was more than an academic philosopher, he was a public figure who was more well known than his philosophy. His life was lived in the pages of the press and made great fodder for the newshounds. Whether it was his many love affairs (including a disastrous one with poet T.S. Eliot's unstable wife Vivian) or his peace campaign during the first World War that led to his jailing by the English government, Russell always made good copy. Monk takes the reader behind the headlines to the events and forces that shaped the young Russell's life and philosophy. His partnership with Alfred North Whitehead in the co-authorship of Principia Mathematica is expertly handled, as is Russell's later dalliance with the Bloomsbury Group.
This is the first of two projected volumes and I can't wait to read Part Two.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brint Montgomery on February 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I can only agree with what has gone before. A truly wonderful "book", if that's what you call these short 58 page things. Takes the view that the "fall" from Platonism to nominalism in mathematics is the key to Russell's development as a philosopher. I don't know if it's true or not, since Russell had such a complicated life, but it is an utterly fascinating hypothesis, and completely accessible, as Monk unfolds the account. The writing is so smooth I could barely tell when Monk transitioned to new topics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roberto P. De Ferraz on July 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Strange as it may seem, I began to read this book after reading its sequel, but got the same good impression of it all, because what counts most is both the stature of Bertrand Russel and the way it is portrayed by Ray Monk.
"The Spirit of Solitude" is simply fascinating, covering the years Russell dedicated to the philosophy of Mathematics, a subject that is so complex, that completely absorved him, causing his first marriage to collapse amidst great personnal pain to his wife, making Russell to seek love comfort with women who could fulfill the maternal absence to a man who lost both his parents when a child. The pressure exerted upon him by his grandmother is also elucidative on the ways he chose to mantain his personall life amid a curtain of secrecy, something instrumental in his future evolution as a philosopher.
The apex of his career was hit when he published, along with Whithehead, the voluminous Principia Mathematica, a 4.500 pages book, which took some 10 years of his best efforts, and which was dedicated to the foundations of philosophical thinking in Mathematics. It was such a difficult book to read that even Russell expected that no more than a handfull of great mathematicians could read and understand what was there meant.
This book is a must for everyone interested in Philosophy and the philosophy of mathematical thinking.
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