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.