Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 1872-1921

Ray Monk, Author
Ray Monk, Author Free Press $35 (720p) ISBN 978-0-684-82802-2
Hardcover - 592 pages - 978-0-7432-1215-1
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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. (Oct.)
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