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Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius Paperback – November 1, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

According to Monk, philosopher and reluctant Cambridge don Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was driven by spiritual as much by intellectual concerns, exchanged academia for solitude whenever possible and was drawn to brilliant younger men. "Monk has done an excellent job of elucidating the twin journeys of an extraordinary mind and soul," said PW. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The veritable flood of writings about Wittgenstein--fiction as well as nonfiction--continues unabated, and this is a worthy addition. Monk gives a more balanced account of Wittgenstein's life and personality than does Brian McGuinness ( Wittgenstein: A Life; Young Ludwig, 1889-1921, LJ 9/15/88), insofar as he deals with Wittgenstein's homosexuality and goes into considerable detail about the three main relationships in Wittgenstein's life. Monk has done a great deal of research; what emerges is a portrait of a troubled, restless, creative mind, one destined, it seems, to be forever dissatisfied. Though not the last word on Wittgenstein's life--something on the order of a "psychobiography" must someday be written--this book is highly recommended.
- Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140159959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140159950
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

120 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Incantessimo VINE VOICE on November 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ray Monk's biography of Wittgenstein has correctly been called 'definitive'. In the introduction he states as his goal the writing of a biography which neglects neither the humanity of the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, nor his philosophical views, complicated though they may be. He succeeds brilliantly. The result is that the reader is treated to two books at once: one on 'the man', and one on his thought.
Monk's is a tough job. If you know anything about Wittgenstein, you know he is enigmatic - both in terms of his personality and lifestyle, and also his perplexing, yet genius, philosophical views. Yet Monk presents both in as transparent a manner as is perhaps possible, given the nature of his subject. The book is eminently readable, which makes it length a ~positive~ feature. For example, I read the book a chapter at a time, to savour it. The readability comes in large part through Monk's extensive quotations from Wittgenstein's own diary and letters, and the letters of those who corresponded with him. This means that one is transported back to Wittgenstein's world, instead of reading just the dry prose of a biographer (Monk's own writing, of course, is anything but dry).
Most importantly, though, Monk presents Wittgenstein in such a way that many people will be able to befriend this incredible and mysterious man. Wittgenstein was driven by passions - his need to express his thought in a way intelligible and meaningful to others drove him close to suicide on several occasions. He was a man deeply in need of feeling that he was 'understood' - both philosophically and humanly - which were the same for him. (Thus his mentor for a time Bertrand Russell failed on both accounts, as Monk finely illustrates). He loved his friends and detested all things which he considered base.
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65 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
Everything Wittgenstein scholars had been hoping that Brian McGuinness's biography was going to be but wasn't. Valuable both for the philosopher and for the layperson who would perhaps like a better understanding of one of the century's most important philosophers.
Contrary to the one reviewer below, the Bartley biography is one of the most notorious and irresponsible biographies of any philosopher of the 20th century. It is a travesty of scholarship, and an embarrassment to anyone with an critical eye. It is no secret that Wittgenstein was gay, but Bartley tries to prove (with no proof existing to this effect) that Wittgenstein engaged in a kind of sexual activity of the most promiscuous kind. His proof is of the sort: some guy I ran into in a gay bar in Manchester said he knew a guy who looked like Wittgenstein who liked to take rough boys out for a bit of fun. In short, we are not told who these sources were, which means that they cannot be further assessed as to reliability and veracity, not to mention the fact that his depiction of Wittgenstein contrasts markedly with what we know of Wittgenstein from well-documented sources. Not exactly the kind of evidence that scholars like to utilize in making their assertions. The Bartley biography suffers in equal parts from a lack of philosophical understanding on the part of Bartley and a willingness to credit the flimsiest sort of hearsay.
The Toulmin and Janik book is much better than the Bartley (I am somewhat biased as I took two seminars with Toulmin), but it is an attempt to articulate Wittgenstein's intellectual and cultural background, and is more of a supplement to a biography rather than actually being a biography.
The Monk biography is wonderfully human biography, which makes Wittgenstein come alive as a flesh and bone individual. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Wittgenstein or in 20th century philosophy.
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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Andreas Saugstad on July 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ray Monk has written an excellent book about Wittgenstein. I can say without doubt that this is one of the best books I have ever read.
Ray Monk is professor of philosophy at the University of Southampton in England. He studied Wittgenstein at Oxford University, and has also written an extensive biography about Russell. In an interview I did with Monk for a Norwegian newspaper, Monk emphasized that he admired Wittgenstein's intensity, and that he sees two important traits in Wittgenstein's personality: (1) his demand for intellectual clarity, (2) his demand for ethical perfection.
The book gives you insight into the person and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. One learns that Wittgenstein's life and philosophy are intimately connected, and one may wonder whether it is possible to understand Wittgenstein's work without knowing something about his life. Monk describes how the young Wittgenstein came into philosophy from engineering and mathematics. Wittgenstein showed an intense interest in philosophical problems, as Betrand Russell said "he had to understand or die". Wittgenstein studied in Cambridge, lived as a hermit in Norway, was a soldier under the first world war, a school teacher in Austria and professor in Cambridge. Monk describes Wittgenstein's life, and one may see how his life and philosophy are connected - for instance how the last part of Tractatus may be understood in light of the fact that Wittgenstein devloped a religious attitude to life and read Tolstoy intensively during the first world war.
Wittgenstein was a true philosopher. He gave himself to the problems, and he truly struggled with them. The book may be very inspiring for serious scholars in many fields, as well as writers, poets, philosophy students and many others.
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