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In Praise of Idleness: And Other Essays (Routledge Classics) 2nd Edition

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0415325066
ISBN-10: 0415325064
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Editorial Reviews


'A book full of rich, stimulative thought, with plenty of scope for disagreement.' - The Guardian

'Invariably intelligent, stimulating and lucid.' - The Listener

'There is not ... a page which does not provoke argument or thought.' - The Sunday Times


About the Author

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). The leading British philosopher of the twentieth century, who made major contributions in the areas of logic and epistemology. Politically active and habitually outspoken, his ethical principles twice led to imprisonment.


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Product Details

  • Series: Routledge Classics
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (March 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415325064
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415325066
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970). Philosopher, mathematician, educational and sexual reformer, pacifist, prolific letter writer, author and columnist, Bertrand Russell was one of the most influential and widely known intellectual figures of the twentieth century. In 1950 he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1950 for his extensive contributions to world literature and for his "rationality and humanity, as a fearless champion of free speech and free thought in the West."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pletko on March 20, 2005
Format: Paperback

Controversial philosopher and Nobel Prize winner (for Literature) Lord Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) gives us thirteen scintillating essays on which to whet our intellectual appetites. These short essays were written between 1925 and 1935.

Russell writes in an elegant, readable and understandable style. His arguments are well thought out.

The essays consider social questions not discussed in politics. The general theme that ties these essays together is that the world suffers from dogmatism and narrowness; what is needed is the willingness to question dogma.

The essays are a blend of philosophy with other disciplines such as psychology, economics, science, and history. All the essays are brutally honest and forthright. Each essay is packed with a load of wisdom. What's amazing is that these essays are as current today as when they were first written and they will probably remain relevant into the future.

My five favorite essays in this collection include the following:

(1) "In Praise of Idleness." Discusses work and the importance of leisure. In order to get a sample of Russell's insight that permeates this book, here's a sentence from this essay: "The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery."

(2) "'Useless' Knowledge." States that all knowledge is useful not only knowledge that has a practical value.

(3) "The Case for Socialism." Russell gives nine arguments in favor of socialism, most notably the need for preventing war.

(4) "Western Civilization." Discusses its characteristics.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Richards on May 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
This collection of essays could be titled, In Praise of the Individual. Our culture is a distraction from facing up to the essential problem: fear of death. If this is a prime issue for us, it is also the most taboo. To slow down is to become aware of that from which we are distracting ourselves.

Writing in 1930, Lord Russell laments the lack of individuality in outlook he finds in visiting America. Conformity makes a population listless.

Many of the same issues of the 1930's are with us today: economic uncertainty, fear, and an uncritical belief in a better world in the future.

The essay on "Useless" Knowledge is about appreciation and clearly a part of the Slow Lifestyle canon.

We are all more aware of our fellow-citizens than we used to be, more anxious, if we are virtuous, to do them good, and in any case to make them do us good. We do not like to think of anyone lazily enjoying life, however refined may be the quality of his enjoyment...We have not the leisure of mind, therefore, to acquire any knowledge except such as will help us in the fight for whatever it may happen to be that we think important.

Lord Russell advises a stoic approach which teaches us to be in command of ourselves and to assert our individuality. In order to be mentally healthy, we need to value courage, self-discipline, appreciation, and tolerance.

Do we value courage today?

Do we teach it in school?

This is still a stimulating and provocative book.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By monkey mind on December 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Being somewhat familiar with Russell's work in philosophy, I was a little taken aback by his use of broad generalizations and universal statements in these essays. Russell definately over-simplifies complex issues, but by doing so he presents ideas that are ingenious and downright revolutionary. His ideas are contentious and make for entertaining reading. These essays also prove that rationality and reason can be far more compassionate than any emotional arguments. In fact, rationality and reason may be the only means to compassionate action.

Some of the ideas in these essays seem a little bit dated, but others are as relevant (maybe even more so) as they were in Russell's day. This is a book that deserves to be read by contemporary readers, especially considering the popularity of current writers like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and the like. The preface and introduction in this edition serve well to place Russell's arguments in context of current issues and thought.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Renato Baserga on September 15, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading Bertrand Russell's books is always a pleasure. This book collects a number of articles Bertrand Russell wrote more than 50 years ago. It does not make any difference: most of the articles have not aged at all, a very sad reflection. There is only one section (on the future of architecture) where Russell's proposals and predictions are outdated. But the cruelty and folly of mankind that brought us to the horrors of World War 2 are still with us. In addition, the writing is always witty and entertaining. Pay attention especially at Russell's article on financial interests. It seems that it has been written after the crash of Wall Street of last year. It also proposes remedies.....
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on October 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Besides his praise of idleness, Bertrand Russell demolishes in these lectures the philosophy of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and gives formidable comments on fascism and communism (`Scylla and Charybdis'), religion, politics and civilization.
The all important issue in his `literary' work was to save mankind from the suicidal disaster of (nuclear) war.

B. Russell demonstrates clearly that Fichte's whole philosophy develops out of the proposition `I am I'. For Fichte, the Ego is both the agent and the result of the action. The Ego exists because it wills to exist. Or more generally, `the universe is myself'.
In his `Address to the German Nation', Fichte states that `the German is superior to all other moderns, because he alone has a pure language. If the German character is to be preserved, there must be a new kind of education, which must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys the freedom of the will' (!).

For B. Russell, civilization is a combination of knowledge and forethought. The degree of forethought involved in any act is measured by three factors: present pain, future pleasure and the length of the interval between them.

Religion is a conscious phenomenon, because `one doesn't find that believers in a future life are less afraid of illness. The reason for this apparent inconsistency is, of course, that religious belief exists only in the region of conscious thought and has not succeeded in modifying unconscious mechanisms.'

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