Clif's Reviews > Bertrand Russell: A Life

Bertrand Russell by Caroline Moorehead
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May 13, 2012

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Read in May, 2012

Bertrand Russell was an interesting fellow, a top-notch intellectual with a gift for explaining difficult concepts to the public. A British Issac Asimov, you might say.

His personal life was exceptionally tempestuous because he was always looking for a sexual conquest, whether he was married or not. He was well known for promoting freedom for both individuals in a relationship, yet his experience shows how human emotion takes the lead over rational thought.

He wrote a great number of books, most of them popular, and he took part in several social movements. He strongly opposed WW1 and, initially, WW2, but never claimed that he was a pacifist, seeing war as sometimes necessary. The account of those who stood up against conscription during WW1 (with Russell staunchly behind them) is one of the better sections of this book.

Never one to see the future optimistically, he commonly predicted a short time to come for mankind and was particularly opposed to the development of nuclear weapons.

Married four times, only his last relationship proved stable. This book is sympathetic to Russell, as you would expect, but it is difficult to take the treatment he gave his first wife in particular. All of his wives, with one exception, and other women as well were devoted to him. Once the appeal of a woman had faded, he wasn't hesitant to not only make it known to her, but to also inform her of his pursuit and success with someone else. This matter of fact manner indicates no understanding of human emotion, no matter how advanced his thoughts were on philosophy.

Hobnobbing with the rich and famous of Britain, Russell became close to many well-known names such as Wittgenstein, Conrad, Wolff, T.S. Elliot and many more. A great conversationalist, he was sought out by the hosts and hostesses of parties for the literati.

With all this, the material for a good book is present. While I enjoyed reading this biography, it comes off as somewhat cold. Though Russell's philosophical outlook is briefly discussed at certain points, it is only in passing. He goes through emotional ups and downs but I'm left with the feeling that he didn't concern himself too much with his effect on others. Of course he loved being popular with his readers but he seems removed from those most close to him.

His attempts to come on to almost any attractive woman, though successful more often then not, reveal him to be driven by an urge, an insecurity beneath the intellect he promoted as the greatest possession we have.

This book is very readable, tells a good story, but is not the engrossing examination of the man I would like to have read. It's loaded with who thought what about whom, which gets tiresome but is, admittedly, a big part of what life is to most people.
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