"Bertrand Russell 1921-1970: The Ghost of Madness" by Ray Monk [Book Review]

The Economist 1 (2000)
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‘Poor Bertie’ Beatrice Webb wrote after receiving a visit from Bertrand Russell in 1931, ‘he has made a mess of his life and he knows it’. In the 1931 version of his Autobiography, Russell himself seemed to share Webb’s estimate of his achievements. Emotionally, intellectually and politically, he wrote, his life had been a failure. This sense of failure pervades the second volume of Ray Monk’s engrossing and insightful biography. At its heart is the failure of Russell’s marriages to Dora Black and Patricia (Peter) Spence, his poor relationships with his children John and Kate, and the decline in his reputation as a philosopher. Russell, who had changed the direction of philosophy irrevocably, was in later years unable to find permanent academic employment in Britain, ousted from his professorship at the City College of New York because of his views on sex and marriage, and was reduced to giving nonspecialist lectures at a foundation established by the Philadelphia philanthropist Albert C. Barnes. Eventually in 1944 he returned to Cambridge, but by then the philosophical world was in the grip of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ideas, and Russell was largely ignored.

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Tim Crane
Central European University


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