In the second half of his life, Bertrand Russell transformed himself from a major philosopher, whose work was intelligible to a small elite, into a political activist and popular writer, known to millions throughout the world. Yet his life is the tragic story of a man who believed in a modern, rational approach to life and who, though his ideas guided popular opinion throuIn the second half of his life, Bertrand Russell transformed himself from a major philosopher, whose work was intelligible to a small elite, into a political activist and popular writer, known to millions throughout the world. Yet his life is the tragic story of a man who believed in a modern, rational approach to life and who, though his ideas guided popular opinion throughout the twentieth century, lost everything. Russell's views on marriage, religion, education, and politics attracted legions of devoted followers and, at the same time, provoked harsh attacks from every direction. On the one hand, he was stripped of his post at New York's City College because he was thought to be a bad influence on his students, and on the other, he was awarded the Order of Merit, the Nobel Prize in literature, and a lifetime Fellowship of Trinity College, Cambridge. He lived to be ninety-seven, and as he became older he became increasingly controversial. Monk quotes Russell's telegrams to Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis, an influence that Russell and his followers believed tipped the balance toward peace. Russell devoted his last years to a campaign organized by his secretary to lend support to Che Guevara's call for a globally coordinated revolutionary struggle against "U.S. imperialism." Until now, this last campaign has been misunderstood as a -- perhaps misguided, but nevertheless innocent -- plea for world peace. Monk reveals it was no such thing.Drawing on thousands of documents collected at the Russell archives in Canada, Monk steers through the turbulence of Russell's public activities, scrutinizing his sometimes paradoxical and often outrageouspronouncements. Monk's focus, however, is on the tragedy of Russell's personal life, and in revealing this inner drama Monk has relied heavily on the cooperation of Russell's surviving relatives and access to previously unexamined legal and private correspondence. A central player in Russell's life was his first son, John. Russell applied the methods of the new science of child psychology in his parenting, believing that a new generation of children could be reared to be "independent, fearless, and free." But instead of being a model of this new generation, John became anxious, withdrawn, and eventually schizophrenic. Nor was John's daughter Lucy (who was Russell's favorite grandchild) to be a model of the new generation; gradually she grew so emotionally disturbed that, at the age of twenty-six, she took her own life."The Ghost of Madness" completes the most searching examination yet published of Bertrand Russell's unique life and work. Together with Ray Monk's highly praised first volume of the biography, "The Spirit of Solitude," this is the classic account of an extraordinary man who championed the great ideas of the twentieth century and was all but destroyed by them. It is a portrait of the mind of a century....
|Title||:||Bertrand Russell: 1921-1970, the Ghost of Madness|
|Number of Pages||:||592 Pages|
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Bertrand Russell: 1921-1970, the Ghost of Madness Reviews
As some other reviews point out, Monk, who worships Wittgenstein and was generally sympathetic in treating the first half of Russell's life, turns totally negative in the second volume. He criticizes Russell's popular hack-work writing, his radical politics, and his chaotic sexual and family life. Even if one were to share Monk's politics and prudery, one would have to admit that Monk overgeneralizes his attack on Russell.Monk's criticisms of Russell go beyond the personal and political vendetta even to Russell's technical work. An example of this is Monk's treatment of Russell's book "The Analysis of Matter." (Monk, pp.71-3.) Monk dismisses Russell's structural account of physics, and backs his rejection by citing Russell's own premature acceptance of the thrust of the critical review by the topologist Newman. Russell, despite his apparent vanity and enormous ego tended to overly quickly accept criticism of others, for instance Wittgenstein's criticism of the early manuscript of Russell's theory of knowledge, which the latter did not himself publish. Ironically structuralism or structural realism is a major contender in the philosophy of contemporary theoretical physics. Many cutting edge philosophers of modern physics, for instance Steven French and James Ladyman, treat this approach as a live and serious option. Others, such as Thomas Ryckman treat it as an opposing view worthy of counter-argument. Monk, driven by his anti-Russell animus gone wild, casually dismisses this approach as worthless, ignorant of more recent developments in the philosophy of physics.Another example is in Monk's treatment of Russell's more serious historical and political writings. Monk dismisses Russell's work "Power" (pp. 212-14) as simply an emotive and banal piece of sermonizing, devoid of any theoretical analysis. It is odd then that Steven Lukes, for instance, includes Russell, along with theorists such as Max Weber, Hannah Arendt, Georg Simmell, Habermas, John Kenneth Garlbraith, and Foucault, in his anthology on "Power."Similarly Monk dismisses Russell's "Freedom and Organization 1814-1914" as "amateurish" and "not a serious contribution to the historical literature" because it does not contain historical research based on original documents. He ignores that it might be a useful and insightful summary of the main trends of the period.These are just three examples of the way that Monk in his vendetta against Russell and in some ways understandable dislike of Russell's personality has to discredit even Russell's more serious contributions of his later period.
Ray Monk’s book is by far the best biography of Bertrand Russell out there. It is also a book that, if you are a great admirer of Russell’s (like I was, and still am), you need to read with your eyes open. What distinguishes this biography from others written about Russell is (except from its size) is (a) the fact that it is written by a philosopher (of mathematics and science), thus offering an insight on how Russell’s personal life influences his scientific thinking and philosophy, but also the reverse, and (b) the presentation of an image of a Russell that is very different from the Russell that probably lives in most people’s imagination; a wise old mathematical genius and pioneer of logic; an immaculate, infallible and morally superior human being who managed to see what is right and wrong in this world ahead of everyone else, and put it into words that captured a generation’s imagination about what a better tomorrow could look like.Monk’s biography is unique because it doesn’t hide any of this – if anything it makes it all too clear. What it also does, however, is to display – mostly via Russell’s own words through his letters, how his long -- and mostly painful and full of drama -- life came to shape his character, his principles, his philosophy, his understanding of science, society, truth, religion, and logic in ways that are almost directly opposite not only to the philosophy he puts forward but to the advice he directly gives to humanity. Monk must have spent an immense amount of his life with Russell’s innumerable writings (personal or public) and, from his writing, it is evident that he came to know the man as intimately as someone would have if one had actually met him and spent time with him.It seems to me that Monk entered the immensely difficult task of writing about Russell’s life as a huge admirer of Russell and, in the process, after reading and understanding not only his scientific work, but also his choices in life, his perceptions about others, his ghosts and fears, and his perception about himself, came to slowly disapprove of the man (not to say hate). The change of attitude towards not only Russell the logician, but also Russell the social philosopher, is evident mainly on the second volume of the biography where the reader reads, astonishingly, “how bad Russell’s writing was in the second part of his life”. This generalised critique is, in my view, unfair. Monk spends a good part of his book diminishing the value not only of Russell’s social philosophy but also of Russell’s (scientific, political and social) achievements during the second part of his life mostly on the basis that his arguments – especially when it comes to politics and international issues – were too simplistic. This criticism has much truth in it but then again sometimes neither reality, nor solutions to complex problems need to be too complicated and Russell was a master of conveying difficult ideas in simple and understandable ways.There is surely much to be said about the poverty of some of Russell’s social philosophy but Russell certainly does not deserve the pure contempt that comes out in much of the book. Looking at the totality of Russell’s life achievements one simply can’t demand or be strict with parts of his life or decisions that did not live up to Godly standards. He was a man, after, all; not only imperfect but with major faults, dark sides, and capable of thinking and doing ugly things as much as any of us is. Moreover, I have to say the constant comparison with Wittgenstein (whose company Monk would, evidently, have enjoyed much more – as far as I can tell from reading his biography of Wittgenstein at this moment) and the reiteration about how much superior the second one was to the first, becomes tiring.I could probably keep writing for hours but it is too late. In all, despite offering an image of Russell that will make some of us who learned to love the man through his writings think hard about the extent to which his philosophy should, after all, affect crucial decisions in our life, Monk’s biography is our best opportunity to learn the life and deeds of one of the most thrilling human beings that stepped foot on this planet. One whose overwhelming genius, capricious and emotionally unstable character, vanity, personal tragedy but also happiness, ambition to change the world, global influence, and contribution to humanity through science and philosophy epitomises not only the maximum utilisation, but also the exhaustion of human faculties.
Beware of Heroes with Feet of ClayA superbly presented biography of the second half of the life of Bertrand Russell. One gets the feeling that Ray Monk, ultimately, was disappointed by Russell, and this sense of disappointment is never far below the surface. In this compelling biography Monk puts Russell's tragic failures on public display. Russell, for all his genius and ability, was a weak man. I had high hopes that perhaps the Russell I have been reading would emerge a redeemed figure. Instead, I found myself becoming disappointed, frustrated, and even angry with this great thinker. He fretted about money and wasted his enormous talent on journalism and potboilers; he could not keep his libido in check and was involved in two acrimonious divorces that contributed to severe problems for his children and grandchildren; he not like to be challenged both professionally and personally, and this led to numerous estrangements; he wanted to be the centre of attention and lapped up flattery from any source which all but unmade his fame making him a pitiable old man. As you approach the end of the biography, one begins to ask questions about those once involved in Russell's personal life. Surprisingly, at the time of its publication in 2000, Bertrand Russell's third wife, Peter Spence, and their son, Conrad, were still alive; both would die in 2004. Russell's daughter Kate, who is still living, also exits the stage after her failed attempt to witness to her father about her conversion to Christianity. The most interesting section of the entire biography comes at the end, when Bertrand Russell becomes an apostle of communist revolution. Monk brilliantly shows that the great man of peace was largely being controlled by Ralph Schoenman, but still leaves room for doubt regarding how much Russell actually knew and understood in his final years.
There isn't much more to say about this book than I wrote about the first volume of Monk's biography of Russell. I am glad that I read it. I know more about the life of the man who co-wrote "The Principia Mathematica" and who wrote "The Principles of Mathematics".But it is a long, grueling and sad tale if you make it to the end of volume two. This is not fault of Ray Monk. He could only write about the material he had to work with.
vol 2. Controversial.....and why not!
Bertrand Russell made real in the crazy 2nd half ofhis life. How he won a Nobel prize for literature isbeyond me. A gifted philosopher should stick to whathe knows.
Monk tries to spin a story which simply doesn't fit. Though I tried, and though the book is well written, I never managed to finish the book. The picture being painted is too incongruent. Among other things it displays that Monk is embarrassingly clueless when it comes to the pathology of mental illnesses. This makes the read unpleasant, and makes sense only when you recognize Monks personal position - he has unhealthy issues with the dead earl - some of which he should probably share with the therapist instead of the public. The reviews of New York times and The Guardian delivers more detail:https://www.nytimes.com/books/01/04/2... https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...