Bertrand Russell: A Life

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this brilliant, highly entertaining biography, the most intimate portrait of Russell (1872-1970) to date, Moorehead ( Freya Stark ) gives full play to the contradictory strains of the austere philosopher, passionate romantic, indignant moralist, free-love advocate, socialist proselytizer and implacable foe of the Soviet Union. While not neglecting Russell's achievements as prophet of liberal humanism, mathematician, pacifist, educational reformer, advocate of world government and antinuclear activist, Moorehead is especially strong in exploring his traumatic childhood (both parents died before his fourth birthday), his four marriages and many affairs, and his friendships or entanglements with D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield, T. S. Eliot and many others. We meet a man who, time and again, ruthlessly severed himself from his past and from those he once loved, an ``old-fashioned liberal at heart'' whose radical stances often made him a force for progressive change. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Readers today who remember Russell for his War Crimes Tribunal, which condemned America's involvement in Vietnam, and for his popular History of Western Philosophy , may not realize that he was among the most significant philosophers of the 20th century--a far-ranging thinker whose Principia Mathematica , written with Alfred North Whitehead, was one of the first major advances in logic since Aristotle. Moorehead's entertaining biography won't clarify the many strands of Russell's thought, but she presents a smooth, detailed overview of his life. Perhaps she becomes a bit sketchy toward the end--any biographer would be exhausted by Russell's ceaseless writing and crusading, as well as his numerous affairs and four marriages--but her work ultimately provides a solid background for anyone interested in Russell or more generally in British cultural history. Recommended for most libraries.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
Bill Ott
"I have a very simple creed," Bertrand Russell declared on his ninetieth birthday, "that life and joy and beauty are better than dusty death." Through nearly a century of thinking and writing, Russell developed and discarded enough creeds to last humankind well into the next millennium, but whether he was redefining the philosophical underpinnings of mathematics or espousing radical educational theories or preaching pacifism or bringing the joy of philosophy to the masses, there was always one constant: passionate belief in the rightness of whatever it was that held his attention at the moment. As Moorehead makes clear in this massive but engagingly readable biography of a man who was born in the midst of the Victorian era and lived long enough to speak out against the Vietnam War, Russell's commitment to asking questions and finding answers (or, in the matter of religion, trying to live without them) resulted not only in a life of rare intellectual distinction, but also in considerable personal chaos. We see it all in the grand sweep of this life story, the four wives and numerous mistresses, including Lady Ottoline Morrell, who opened Russell to the world of physical passion; the roster of famous friends and intellectual sparring partners, most of whom would eventually become enemies, from Wittgenstein to Lawrence and the Bloomsburians; and the disastrous effect of "progressive" education and "enlightened" parenting on Russell's own children. Through it all, though, Moorehead stresses the boundless energy and remarkable vigor of this "very severe pelican," as one journalist described the diminutive Russell. Fortunately, this is not a severe biography; while obviously sympathetic to her subject, Moorehead brings humor and keen psychological insight to her telling of Russell's story. She makes us respect Russell's mind, but, more importantly, she shows us his struggle to live a life not just of the mind but of joy and love and beauty. Like most of us, he was only partially successful.
Kirkus Reviews
Ambitious biography by Moorehead (ed., Betrayal, 1990, etc.) of one of the most fascinating of modern British lives, taking in a century of social and cultural upheaval. Born in 1872 into a world of high Victorian privilege, heir to an earldom, Russell crammed an almost bewildering variety of activity into his 98 years, involving himself indefatigably not only in progressive causes of all kinds—free trade, women's suffrage, pacifism, progressive education, disarmament—but in the construction of a common intellectual culture in the broadest sense. As controversial as he was hugely popular and energetic, Russell pursued simultaneous careers as academic philosopher, scientific popularizer, moralist, social commentator, and general public intellectual of a type scarcely imaginable today, becoming in his 90s the West's corrosive self-styled antinuclear conscience. (Among modern philosophers, only Sartre enjoyed comparable public standing—but whereas Sartre's philosophy was integral to his public persona, Russell's particular brand of analytic thought wasn't, and Moorehead devotes only a small fraction of her text to the man's philosophical work.) Yet Russell remains easier to admire than to love: Moorehead reveals that his protean energies—the source of his extraordinary creativity—were profoundly destructive to those around him. In his personal relationships, Russell appears here as a man trapped in the prison of self, manipulating, draining, and exhausting his many lovers, as well as his family, friends, and colleagues: He had, as one longtime sufferer put it, "an inevitable way of hurting one." Russell's personal involvements followed a constanttrajectory: a brief period of intense emotional investment and intimacy—often with others as opinionated and arrogant as himself (Lawrence, Shaw, Wells, Eliot, Wittgenstein, et al.)—succeeded by disputes and an estrangement so complete as to resemble being dropped "down an oubliette." Moorehead shapes Russell's complex character into a vivid and compelling portrait: an exemplary accomplishment. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670850082
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/1993
  • Pages: 608
  • Product dimensions: 20.00 (w) x 20.00 (h) x 20.00 (d)

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