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Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers Paperback – September 17, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
In October 1946, philosopher Karl Popper arrived at Cambridge to lecture at a seminar hosted by his legendary colleague Ludwig Wittgenstein. It did not go well: the men began arguing, and eventually, Wittgenstein began waving a fire poker toward Popper. It lasted scarcely 10 minutes, yet the debate has turned into perhaps modern philosophy's most contentious encounter, largely because none of the eyewitnesses could agree on what happened. Did Wittgenstein physically threaten Popper with the poker? Did Popper lie about it afterward? BBC journalists Edmonds and Eidinow use the controversy as a springboard to probe the whys and whats of these two great thinkers, weaving biography, journalism and philosophy to produce one of the year's most entertaining and intellectually rich books. The authors show that the debate was a clash at several levels. First, of personalities: each was "bullying, aggressive, intolerant and self-absorbed"; in other words, accustomed to winning and unlikely to back down. Second, of class: Wittgenstein was an Austrian aristocrat, Popper was bourgeoisie (each fled Vienna to escape Hitler). And third, of ideas: Wittgenstein believed that philosophy boiled down to nothing more than a series of linguistic puzzles, while Popper thought philosophy involved real problems that immediately affected the world at large. Clearly, the stakes were high for both men in that lecture hall especially because their common mentor, the aging icon Bertrand Russell, was also in attendance. The debate thus took on the character of a succession for the throne. Tightly constructed and extraordinarily well written, this is a marvelous blend of lay and academic scholarship. It has every chance of becoming a classic of its kind. (Nov.)Forecast: Smart, general readers will gobble up this latest addition to narrative nonfiction. It will surely find a place for itself among The Professor and the Madman and An Eternal Golden Braid.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Here is ivory-tower drama at its crackling best. On Cambridge University's campus in 1946, two of the twentieth century's most notable philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, squared off in an intense 10-minute exchange rumored to have led to Wittgenstein brandishing a red-hot poker. What actually happened in this now-legendary clash, and how it reflects the development of philosophy and the times, is what Edmonds and Eidinow set out to discover. Wittgenstein came to the encounter with a reputation as a "charismatic genius." Popper, by contrast, presented a mundane picture, his academic life falling in the shadow of Wittgenstein, whose views on philosophy he fiercely derided. Both men were of Jewish extraction, displaced from Austria by the Nazi takeover. But Wittgenstein's wealth had allowed him freedoms denied the more middle class Popper. Feelings from all these myriad gulfs spilled over into the Cambridge encounter. The authors' profiling of the audience, which included Bertrand Russell, further illuminates what stoked the philosophical fires that day. Moving quickly from one brief chapter to another, Edmonds and Eidinow bring rich interpretation to the extraordinary incident, a BBC documentary on which is in the making. Philip Herbst
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
"There was a delightful irony in the conflicting testimonies. They had arisen between people all professionally concerned with theories of epistemology..., understanding, and truth. Yet they concerned a sequence of events where those who disagreed were eyewitnesses on crucial questions of fact."(p4)
The authors use this rather well-known (to academic philosophers) but murky incident as a focus for a book that takes us back to the Vienna of the Hapsburgs, where the extremely wealthy Wittgensteins moved in the highest echelons of culture and social life, and the more modest Poppers also enjoyed the wide and deep intellectual life of this city of coffeehouses and tolerance. Later (but before the storm) there was the Vienna Circle, which courted Wittgenstein and excluded Popper. (Or did he exclude himself?)
This is a book about two great men who were both Viennese, intense, egotistical, brilliant, and contentious to a degree rarely seen. To each, every discussion bearing on philosophy became a contest that each had to win, and almost invariably did. Ironically, they never met until that night in 1946, in Cambridge, England, of all places. So it is also a book about philosophy in the 20th century that brings in G.E.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First, I agree with Popper on many things. Paraphrasing what he said of Hayek, I have learned more from him than anyone other than Hayek (the difference being no one cares who... Read morePublished 4 hours ago by David H. Eisenberg
On October 25, 1946, at a meeting of the Moral Science Club at Cambridge University, England, there was a confrontation between two of the great twentieth-century philosophers. Read morePublished 8 months ago by M.D. Kuehn
This was a light read, that could have benefitted by a bit more weight. The book goes deep into the background of the two sparring philosophers, delving into the social and... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Bruce Huttner
As much depth and detail one could ever ask for about the personal lives [and the lives of friends/relatives/loved-ones] of Wittgenstein & Popper.
Great book. Read more
This is a well-written book about a showdown at Cambridge University in 1946 between philosophers Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, with the latter brandishing a fireplace poker... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Fry Boy
A major conflict in the history of science framed as a historical adventure and just as exciting. All philosophy should be this lucidly written!Published 21 months ago by traveler
The protagonists in this brief book, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, were philosophers who differed substantially in what each thought philosophy was about. Read morePublished 21 months ago by C. Griffith
I bought this book and read it after hearing former President Bill Clinton talk about it, and he was right that it was an excellent, thought-provoking read! Read morePublished 22 months ago by Dave
Very nice introduction to the philosophical ideas of Wittgenstein and Popper, and also the circumstances surrounding these ideas, all wrapped around one central incident that... Read morePublished on July 23, 2014 by SidB