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Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers
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Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,650 ratings  ·  211 reviews
On October 25, 1946, in a crowded room in Cambridge, England, the great twentieth-century philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper came face to face for the first and only time. The meeting -- which lasted ten minutes -- did not go well. Their loud and aggressive confrontation became the stuff of instant legend, but precisely what happened during that brief ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 17th 2002 by Ecco (first published 2001)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Wittgenstein's poker: the story of a ten minute argument between two great philosophers, David Edmonds, John Eidinow
Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers is a 2001 book by BBC journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow about events in the history of philosophy involving Sir Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, leading to a confrontation at the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club in 1946.
On 25 October 1946, Popper (then at the London School
Mar 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, owned, philosophy
Karl Popper's a sad case. One of the greatest geniuses of the last century, he was an analytical philosopher par excellence at the exact moment when everyone started to ignore analytical philosophy. But at least he got to survive to see himself become extinct.

Wittgenstein and Popper were from opposite sides of the tracks in Vienna, both had taught school for a little while, both Jews who escaped the Anschluss (Wittgenstein with a bit more dignity than Popper), but beyond some superficial
Brad Lyerla
Nov 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Ludwig Wittgenstein is regarded as one of the great philosophers of the 20th Century. His big idea was that a philosopher's job is to clarify the use of language to help us think more clearly. Early in his philosophical career, he believed that clarification could be achieved by making language more logical. He suggested ways to accomplish this.

Later, he changed his mind. He abandoned the notion that language could be made more logical. He concluded instead that natural language could not be
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite reads this year, it's delightful.

Apparently it's a legendary anecdote: Karl Popper triumphantly debunking the whole foundation of Wittgenstein's philosophy so brutally that the latter, in impotent rage, threatened him with an iron poker and stormed out.

The main reason it's legendary is because Popper himself wouldn't let it die. He was certain he single-handedly overthrew logical positivism and its conviction that there are no real philosophical problems, merely linguistic
Dec 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those studying Wittgenstein or Popper
Recommended to Mari by: Mel
Recently (re)discovering a keen interest in Wittgenstein and his work, I found myself once again lacking when I tried to confront the material head-on, as it were. I poured over the same books I'd studied in classes (now more than a decade ago) only to find myself asking the same questions. Am I really understanding any of this the way it was intended to be understood?

Then recommendations came from a family member on a more helpful approach to Wittgenstein - that is, approaching from the side.
Jan 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
This book was incredibly vapid.

The book is a fluffy soap opera that doesn't attempt to seriously describe either man's thoughts, and what it did describe was subpar to any "Philosophers for Beginners" comic books. The authors' characterization of Wittgenstein vacillated between gross simplification to flat out wrong, yet not only did the authors mis-characterize Wittgenstein's work, but they failed to show how either Wittgenstein or Popper's philosophy changed philosophy (and the world) as we
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have been meaning to read this for a very long time – I’ve always been interested in both Wittgenstein and Popper, although never at the same time. Which pretty well explains much of the point of this book, I think. And then I’ve recently seen Amadeus again and so I’ve a feeling some of the themes from having that play fresh in my mind have had a part in my reading of this too.

Let’s start with the blindingly obvious – neither of these guys are the sort of people I would choose to be stuck
Aug 14, 2017 rated it liked it
To sufficiently explain the background of a 10 minute's vehement dispute between two most influential philosophers of twentieth century on 25th October 1946, his book includes a short biography of both philosophers, Wittgenstein and Popper, along with their cultural background, temperament and their influence on other philosophers. Wittgenstein(considered by many the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century) was an ascetic monk, almost spiritual in his essence, who believed there isn't any ...more
Greg Brown
Apr 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
While it purports to be about an emphatic argument between Wittgenstein and Popper, the book actually uses that incident as a way into exploring the cultural background of both authors, especially the way they were both shaped by Vienna and the rise o the Nazis. There is some philosophy there, but it's treated very lightly and simply. I probably would have gotten more out of the book if it wasn't retreading so much of what I already sorta knew, but it remains a breezy & easy-to-read ...more
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a stellar book about a legendary story in academic philosophy: the confrontation between Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, two of the twentieth century's biggest philosophers -- and two of the most different.

At a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club in 1946, Karl Popper gave a lecture entitled "Are there philosophical problems?", in which he propounded a view which he knew would be directly opposed to Wittgenstein's, who believed that philosophical problems are merely a result
Bob Nichols
The authors take a brief moment in time (Wittgenstein's ten minute confrontation with Popper, his philosophical opponent, which involved a fire poker) as a platform to explain the philosophies, biographies and personalities of these two individuals, and the event's moderator, Russell. Here and there, the authors may engage in some journalistic license to add to the story (e.g., "physically small..., neither man was capable of compromise," which comes off as gratuitous prejudice), but generally ...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
I found the historical sketches which were basically book-ended with descriptions of "the poker incident" to be well worth the read. Very interesting little insights into the lesser known (or even thought of) effects of WWI and WWII. I learned some valuable things about European history, specifically the intellectual and political climate of Vienna leading up to and during WWII.

I also got some useful ideas through broad overviews of both Popper's and Wittgenstein's careers of their
Anand Gopal
Jul 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
In 1946 philosopher Karl Popper gave a short lecture addressing the central questions of philosophy to a small audience at Cambridge University. When attendee and legendary philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein stormed off in just ten minutes, apparently bristled by Popper's remarks, the meeting became the stuff of legend.

In this slim volume Edmonds and Edinow, a pair of journalists, attempt to reconstruct the fateful meeting, proceeding in detective-like fashion to uncover the details. They really
Rebecka Göransdotter
I really enjoyed this. And I mean - really really enjoyed it! All the details, all the turns and of course - the adventurous dive into the minds of brilliance and intelligence: Popper and Wittgenstein.

One thing I did not like was the continuous fixation with the looks of women, well almost all the writing regarding women in the book actually. I don't really see the use of it. This intriguing storyline does not need that extra spicing up, because it already has a handful. Sexualising women in
Luis Celhay
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great men are only human...An entretaining story of two philosophers from Vienna in the XXth century.
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, philosophy
Informative, but I would really like to know more of these men's philosophies. They appear to be at odds about the nature of philosophy, but this book isn't deep enough to explain, nor is it intended to be.
Mark Russell
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A dual biography of two of the 20th century's most prominent philosophers, culminating in their infamous confrontation. Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein were equally brilliant opponents and when the two expatriate Austrians squared off at Cambridge's Moral Science Club in 1946, everyone piled into the room to watch the two toughest kids in school fight. Bertrand Russell held Popper's coat. GE Moore fanned Wittgenstein with a towel.

To Wittgenstein, the most revered philosopher of his
Jan 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is notable for its clear presentation of the ideas of both Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I discussed it with our Wednesday Study Group and we all found it insightful and entertaining. The book is very well researched having received praise from some of the foremost Wittgenstein scholars, including Ray Monk who wrote the critically acclaimed biography of Wittgenstein's life. However, it is aimed a general reader and those who are looking for detail discussions and defense of the ...more
Orrin Grey
Jan 04, 2012 rated it liked it
I found a paperback copy of this book among a random pile of $1 books in a small-town hardware store, of all places. I majored in philosophy (and English) in college, and I loved Wittgenstein, so I figured I'd give the book a read. It's a little bit all-over-the-place, and it's certainly heavier on history and sociology than philosophy, but it's an intriguing read if you've got an interest in the players, or in the history of philosophy at the time. Plus it's a quick read with a lot of fun ...more
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I very much enjoyed this book. The authors do a good job in contextualizing the meeting of Popper and Wittgenstein within the history of the continent, the story of their individual lives, and the philosophical projects they were each working on. Philosophy often seems so divorced from life - the authors show that philosophy is integeral in that it has an effect on the men and women who profess it and the organization of society and it's methods.
Aug 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to David by: a gift from my lovely wife
Shelves: read-philosophy
A good book, but you will be bored if you know anything about Wittgenstein and/or Popper's thought already. I enjoyed it because I'd love to know more about both but I am busy with the rest of my life and sadly cannot throw it all aside to study these men's works, no matter how much they deserve it. If you want a book that you can read on the bus but will still make you smarter, this is it.
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How Nazi Germany and attitudes towards Jews, teaching, Vienna and the Vienna circle (Logical Empiricism) affected two of the greatest philosophers and their place in the 20th century. Cast list of Turing, Godel, Schoenberg, Freud.......
Nathan Albright
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge-2019
Calling Wittgenstein a great philosopher would appear to be a highly charitable view given his terrible sense and fondness for oracular statements. It demonstrates the rather low bar that autocratic and possibly mentally unwell personalities have to meet in order to make a mark in the world of philosophy. Indeed, one of the more puzzling aspects of this book is how it is possible that nearly 300 pages of material could be written (even on smallish pages) over an interaction that lasted ten ...more
Dennis Littrell
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Utterly fascinating--but why?

I picked this up more or less by accident. The text quickly engaged me and I read the book rather quickly. But why? I had almost no knowledge about Ludwig Wittgenstein the logical positivist philosopher, and only a little more about Karl Popper one of the leading philosophers of science. Philosophy since Hume has mostly left me uninterested. While some people think (famously) that all philosophy consists merely of footnotes to Plato, I've always believed that the
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Wittgenstein’s Poker is the story of era, background, and personalities, and the role of philosophy leading up to a confrontation between two philosophers—Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper—at a meeting of the Moral Science Club in Cambridge, England on October 25, 1946. The book follows three narrative threads. The first is an investigation of what exactly took place; a difficult endeavor given the differing accounts provided by those interviewed who wore in attendance.

The second presents a
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the story of the famous clash between Wittgenstein and Popper. It is a story and E & E tell it in a way that should appeal to non-philosophers and philosophers will at least not be annoyed by it. Basically it is the story of a ten-minute argument and to make a book out of it show some ingenuity. Popper was reading a paper in Cambridge. Wittgenstein did not like it (as he seemed to not have liked anybody but him doing the talking). And some time he was playing with a poker ...more
Matt McCormick
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
The poker and the argument, their just hooks. Edmonds and Eidinow use these props to tell an interesting story none the less. It’s interesting if you are curious about 20th Century philosophy or philosophy in general, which I am. Admittedly, Wittgenstein is my least favorite of the better known philosophers and I find the whole language/logic/mathematics focus of him and his followers to be oh so meaningless. That said, the “poker” story allowed me to be introduced to Karl Popper and has placed ...more
3.5 Stars.
Ostensibly about a 10 minute argument between philosophers Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein at Cambridge in 1946, but much wider in scope than that. The book delves extensively into the background of each. Both being Viennese Jews we get many pages on the treatment of Jews before and after the Anschluss. Their place of origin being pretty much all they had in common apart from their formidable force of personality bordering on a kind of bullying when it came to arguing their
Stephen Haines
Sep 24, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a 3.5 review. I really enjoyed reading this. The incident itself is fascinating, even if you do not feel particularly fascinated by philosophy in general. The two men at the center—Wittgenstein & Popper—are interesting personalities with engaging & interrelated life stories. The book does a good job of diving into their lives with enough depth that the argument the book centers on grows a lot brighter. The history of them both, and their families, is engaging and has a lot of ...more
James Sheaves
Nov 21, 2018 rated it liked it
A densely researched book that mostly skims over the surface of the philosophy at stake. In other respects it is quite comprehensive, though with a few puzzling choices in coverage. For instance, the authors consciously veer clear of speculating in depth about Wittgenstein's sexuality, claiming that the topic is "not relevant"— yet in the pivotal scene at the core of the book, Wittgenstein is plainly preoccupied with his feelings for a young Cambridge student. One does also occasionally sense ...more
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