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Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  6,897 ratings  ·  194 reviews
"Great philosophical biographies can be counted on one hand. Monk's life of Wittgenstein is such a one."--"The Christian Science Monitor." ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published November 1st 1991 by Penguin Books (first published 1990)
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Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
Portrait of the Thinker as a Man

If you want to understand Ludwig Wittgenstein, the thinker and the man, turn to the very last page of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only philosophical work published in his lifetime. There you will find in all of its gnomic beauty one of the best remembered and most quoted propositions of all: Whereof we cannot speak thereof we must be silent.

That’s just the thing: he wasn’t silent. Most of his life after the publication of the Tractatus was a pursuit of
howl of minerva
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Most surprising for me was the religious-mystical-spiritual thread that runs through Wittgenstein’s life and work. He was very far from the coldly rational uber-logician that he’s often presented as being. As his friend Drury put it: commentators have made it appear that Wittgenstein’s writings ‘were now easily assimilable into the very intellectual milieu they were largely a warning against’. He’s talking of course of the Vienna Circle, technical analytic philosophy, logical positivism…

A few q
A book that illuminates Wittgenstein’s ideas by showing us his life. Alternately, it illuminates his life by showing us his ideas. Flip-flop, mish-mosh, two sides of the same coin. His ideas grew organically from his life, in the same way that his Picture Theory claims that a picture is not a mental representation of a fact but is a fact itself, so that understanding comes immediately from seeing (not through abstraction and representation). This method of illumination works more for Wittgenstei ...more
Manuel Antão
May 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

On Fluffy Clouds: "Ludwig Wittgenstein - The Duty of Genius" by Ray Monk

Why read books about great thinkers? Why not try and read what these "great thinkers" have written? Or maybe read both...?

Because a lot of times the context is just as interesting and sometimes more interesting than just the ideas standing alone.
Jeff Jackson
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'd enjoyed "Wittgenstein's Mistress" and "Wittgenstein's Nephew," so I figured it was time to find out something about the man himself. Ray Monk's book turned out to be one of the best bios I've ever read. A compelling recounting of Wittgenstein's extraordinary life (hails from Europe's wealthiest and most talented family with numerous sibling suicides, insists on serving in WWI trenches, went from Cambridge professor to day laborer) that also makes his philosophy more comprehensible, tracing h ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Normal human beings are a balm to me…and a torment at the same time.”


Drury added that he hoped Wittgenstein would make lots of friends. Wittgenstein replied: "‘It is obvious to me that you are becoming thoughtless and stupid. How could you imagine I would ever have ‘lots of friends?’"

This is officially my favorite book ever.

Exhaustion, loneliness, madness—these were his lot, and he had to accept them: ‘Only nothing theatrical. Of that you must guard against.’

He would, according to Russell
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people to whom language is an endless mystery
Recommended to Geoff by: Jimmy
I'm not going to have any time in the next couple of weeks to write something proper about this great book and this insanely intriguing, captivating, gloriously flawed & brilliant man, Wittgenstein, so I'll direct you to Jimmy's review of this book, which sparked my interest in it, and is full of great stuff about Witt, Robert Musil, Vienna, writer's block, among myriad other things. Jimmy is a real treasure on Goodreads so give his lovely review some much deserved votes:
David M
I'm afraid I've never been able to get much out of either the Tractatus or the Investigations (aside from the extremely quotable line here and there), but there's no question their author had an incredibly captivating personality. The agony of thought, the unintentional humor of purity. Ray Monk's portrait is masterful & highly entertaining. ...more
Apr 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Exhaustive & Exhausting--

Maybe that's the nature of biographies—you get everything, or everything known about the person, and it flatly goes against our narrative preference to read only what's interesting and skip what's not (a strategy fiction adopts to keep us interested). We learn so much about Wittgenstein that, yes, he does become human, and yes, you feel like you understand his philosophy a lot better, but at the same time, there are so many instances of his life that are just not interes
Aug 05, 2010 rated it liked it
As introspective and bookish as you might expect a philosopher as head-spinning as Wittgenstein to be, his actual day-to-day life is pretty interesting. Two anecdotes that most immediately come to mind: 1. After fighting in World War I (throughout which he was hellbent on fighting on the front-lines), Wittgenstein, by inheritance one of the richest men in Austria at the time, gave away ALL of his money to become a country school teacher, believing that he could not live authentically otherwise. ...more
Paul Ataua
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A marvelous and engaging book, in part because because Wittgenstein is such an odd and fascinating character, but mostly because Monk finds an excellent balance between the life and the ideas of this tortured genius, and because he writes it all with such sensitivity.
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Monk writes great biographies - I loved the Oppenheimer biography, and here we have one on Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher of logic, psychology and mathematics, youngest son of the large and prosperous Wittgenstein family of Vienna.

I knew very little about Wittgenstein "the person" before, and even less about his philosophy. This servers as a very good introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy - his writing is famously concentrated down to sentences as concise as possible. Here you get explanat
Rishabh Shukla
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the best biography I have read so far (though I confess I haven't read that many biographies). Before I started reading this book, I was not even aware of the name Ludwig Wittgenstein, but after reading this, it's difficult to not admire and fall in love with his raw intelligence, childish innocence and unblemished heart that remained true to himself and everyone whose life he touched.

At many places in the book, it breaks ones heart to think of the loneliness Prof. Wittgenstein s
Apr 02, 2014 added it
Shelves: biography
ray monk's duty of genius


At about the same time, in fact, he surprised Russell by suddenly saying how much he admired the text: 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul':
"[He] then went on to say how few there are who don't lose their soul. I said it depended on having a large purpose that one is true to. He said he thought it depended more on suffering and the power to endure it. I was surprised -- I hadn't expected that kind of thing from him." (51)

For th
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Again and again in his lectures, Wittgenstein tried to explain that he was not offering any philosophical theory; he was offering only the means to escape any need of such a theory. The syntax, the grammar, of our thought could not be, as he had earlier thought, delineated or revealed by analysis -- phenomenological or otherwise. 'Philosophical analysis,' he said, 'does not tell us anything new about thought (and if it did it would not interest us).' The rules of grammar could not be justified, ...more
Grace Rust
Jan 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very complete and thoroughly well written but also very very long
May 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ray Monk's excellent biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein portrays the intense, ascetic, conscience-ridden philosopher in all the phases of his difficult life, childhood to death.

Wittgenstein was born into one of the wealthiest families in Europe, began his higher level studies as an engineer and became perhaps the most highly regarded philosopher of the first half of the 20th century.

His Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus gained him early fame with which he was never comfortable and ultimately became a
Usman  Baig
4.5 stars. This giant of a book should be a model for all biographies in terms of the sheer research and the resulting details about not only the life but also the thoughts and works of its subject, Ludwig Wittgenstein. It does get a little tiring at times and given that the subject matter of Wittgenstein’s work was so abstract, things are many times difficult to fully understand but the book does a well enough job of rounding up his life and work into a coherent narrative so that we can actuall ...more
Nick Nillo
Mar 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Great biography about Wittgenstein's life and the only criticism I have is the reluctance of the author to explore his philosophy more deeply. But I guess considering it's a biography, it shouldn't be expected. However, when you take into account that it was almost 500 pages, I was a little disappointed. It was still a great read though and gave details about a truly incredible thinker of the 20th century. ...more
Helmut Schneider
Dec 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I said he was mad & he said God preserve him from sanity.
Thus wrote B. Russell about young Wittgenstein in a letter to a friend. He added, in parenthesis ‘(God certainly will)’. Spoken as a true atheist.

Is this a good biography? I wish I had reliable criteria. Does it help me understand the man in his life and historical context? To some extent yes. We see a raving lunatic who thinks the world of himself when he doesn't disrespect himself or talks about suicide.

We do see him getting caught up i
Stephen Case
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ludwig Wittgenstein is widely regarded to be the most influential philosopher of the twentieth century. I've never read his first and most well-known work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but I know something of its influence through a course on the Vienna Circle, the inter-war group of European philosophers who left their indelible mark on modern theorizing regarding science and language. Wittgenstein also shows up as a peripheral character in Logicomix, a wonderful graphic novel on the int ...more
May 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well-written, but more importantly, written with what feels like a deep understanding of Wittgenstein’s work and character. I love the emphasis placed on LW’s spiritual & aesthetic views, which I found consistently thought-provoking and at times deeply moving. I’m not sure what precisely explains my fascination with LW, but I find him more compelling as a thinker and person than almost anyone else I’ve come across. I worry that I am falling into the trap of misunderstanding him he was constantly ...more
Melting Uncle
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Maybe a little too in-depth but I guess somebody had to write the definitive bio of Wittgenstein. I read this without having read any of W’s books, only a general idea of what he was interested in and wrote about. So some details felt tedious (plot of W’s favorite detective novel) but I guess it’s on me for wanting to read every page of this.

LW himself was fascinating and eccentric. He constantly doubted the value of philosophy and advised his students to leave academia and take up work as mecha
Swarup Mondal
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ever since I have been formally introduced to philosophy as a subject two personalities in particular have absolutely changed everything for me, one of them being Nietzsche and the other one being Wittgenstein.
I usually don't read biographies but I have been so enamored and influenced by Wittgenstein's work that I just had to get to know him up and close.
And boy what a tremendous job Ray Monk has done.

Ray Monk familiarizes the reader with Wittgenstein in such a way that the reader ends up findi
Chaya Bhuvaneswar
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm so proud that I was an editorial intern and publicity intern at The Free Press when this book was about to come out. I was also a philosophy major at the time so it was a perfect fit. I found the prose so lucid, moving, evocative, human and real it balanced anything the "cool black boots wearing" Yale philosophy white male posse (you know who you were) could have possibly said to me to try to convince me that somehow I "wouldn't" be able to understand Wittgenstein (wrote my thesis on it w/ S ...more
Adrien Mogenet
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Two reasons to enjoy this book: Ray Monk did an outstanding job to document the life of "the genius" and explain his concepts and thoughts. The second reason is simply that Wittgenstein had a life with plenty of wonderful anecdotes and thoughtful discussions with Russel, Turing, Pinsent, his own students... Some parts are ridiculously amusing, sometimes sad, even awkward, but they all contribute to giving a compelling picture of who Wittgenstein really was. ...more
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: readwithrob
Hard to judge the book when learning about Wittgenstein is such a delight. What a fascinating, troubled, brilliant, crazy person, and I relate to him maybe a bit *too* much. Sometimes I felt like I was just like him, if only I were loaded, and a genius, and a man, and had any sort of drive or motivation.
Rebecca Garrard
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
‘What good does all my talent do me, if, at heart, I am unhappy? What help is it to me to solve philosophical problems, if I cannot settle the chief, most important thing?’
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
one of the most complicated books i'v ever read. ...more
May 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Let's be honest, to pay respect to Wittgenstein's logic, any review written should be blank :)

This book allows you to look into Wittgenstein's personal life in a very intimate way. It would be deadly intriguing even if it is about a fictional nobody, much less the philosophical genius himself. I very much enjoyed the experience of this book and I am sure a lot of people would enjoy it too even with a lack of interest in philosophy so I would definitely recommend.

You know what's funny... Wittgen
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philosophy 4 55 Nov 23, 2017 12:20AM  

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Ray Monk is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton, where he has taught since 1992.

He won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the 1991 Duff Cooper Prize for Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. His interests lie in the philosophy of mathematics, the history of analytic philosophy, and philosophical aspects of biographical writing. He is currently working on a b

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