Bertrand Russell: 1921-70 The Ghost of Madness v.2: 1921-70 The Ghost of Madness Vol 2

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9780224051729: Bertrand Russell: 1921-70 The Ghost of Madness v.2: 1921-70 The Ghost of Madness Vol 2
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This magnificent biography completes the most searching examination yet published of Bertrand Russell's life and work. Whereas Ray Monk's first volume focused on Russell's colossal achievements in philosophy and his often tortured relations with friends and lovers, this volume has at its centre the tragic and deeply moving story of Russell's relationship with his first son, John. Following the lead set by Russell in his Autobiography, previous biographies have concentrated in the second half of his life on his public activities - his founding of a school, his political campaigning for peace and so on. All this is covered in abundant detail in this book, but what distinguishes it is the illumination it throws on the most important relationship in Russell's life, the one in which he invested the most time and emotional energy and one that has, until now, remained largely untold. This book traces that story, from Russell's ecstasy at John's birth to his frightened dismay at John's collapse into madness, showing the fervour of his hopes for education and parenthood in producing the 'independent, fearless and free' generation of which he expected to John to provide an example and the corresponding depth of his disappointment and despair when John turned out to be schizophrenic and the reform of society a good deal more difficult than he had imagined.

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Review:

The first volume of Monk's mammoth biography of Russell The Spirit of Solitude dealt with the first 50 years of his life leading up to and beyond the First World War when he established his reputation as a great philosopher. This second volume deals with his marriages, his social and political writings, his political and educational activities, the lecture tours and his tragic relationship with his children. Russell's life is incredibly well documented and Monk controls the narrative and the sheer weight of material with skill and perceptiveness. "Researching Russell's private life", Monk reports, "is to pick one's way through a long trail of emotional wreckage, to put oneself in the position of someone close to Russell has been a heartbreaking experience". There is no doubt that Monk is struck by the tragedy of a life he thinks of as "determined by two fundamental traits of character: a deep-seated fear of madness and a quite colossal vanity". But it is the "colossal vanity" of the man which leaves the lasting impression and which seems to justify Paul Johnson's recent characterisation of modern philosophers, Intellectuals--including Russell--as lying, cheating, megalomaniacs who combine an abstract love of humanity with an exploitative, selfish and cruel treatment of those closest to them.

Monk's biography upsets the popular platitudes which see Russell as a hero of the left. Nevertheless Russell was an incredibly energetic and charismatic figure despite the "ascendancy of the ego over intelligence" which clearly characterised the second half of his long and highly eventful life. It's difficult to pity Russell but easy to share Monk's view of him as inexhaustibly fascinating. --Larry Brown

Synopsis:

The second volume of Ray Monk's biography of Bertrand Russell focuses on Russell's tragic and moving relationship with his first son John. It traces the story, from Russell's ecstacy at John's birth to his frightened dismay at his descent into insanity, using the relationship as a centerpoint to expound on Russell's public achievements, such as his founding of a school and his political campaigning for peace.

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