Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude Monk, R 1996
Volume I of Ray Monk’s life of Bertrand Russell is a penetrating and highly critical portrait of one of this century’s most influential intellectual figures. Monk’s talents as a writer and his knowledge of philosophy produce clear and lucid prose that is sophisticated in its understanding, yet doesn’t shy away from the dishy details that make the book compelling. This initial volume takes us through the first fifty years of Russell’s private, public, and intellectual life. We follow Russell through his boyhood and schooling, his two marriages and countless love affairs, his friendships with eminent intellectuals such as Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot (plus an affair with Eliot’s wife Vivien), and the members of the Bloomsbury Group, up to the birth of Russell’s son in 1921. The inner Russell is tumultuous, fighting off fears of madness, and full of insatiable longings. We also see Russell’s public life: his outspoken commitment to pacifism which ultimately led to his imprisonment, as well as his early advocacy and later disillusionment with socialism. Ray Monk is particularly adept at explicating Russell’s philosophy: his desire to bring an end to interminable philosophical debates by developing new techniques for the logical analysis of philosophical problems. In Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Monk demonstrated that cracking good stories exist in the arcana of academic philosophy and in the lives of philosophers. The vastness of Russell’s life and the breadth of his interests, in addition to the brilliance of his mind, makes Monk’s story all the more captivating.