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Product details

  • Paperback: 792 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; New Ed edition (2 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415325056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415325059
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970). Philosopher, mathematician, educational and sexual reformer, pacifist, prolific letter writer, author and columnist, Bertrand Russell was one of the most influential and widely known intellectual figures of the twentieth century. In 1950 he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1950 for his extensive contributions to world literature and for his "rationality and humanity, as a fearless champion of free speech and free thought in the West."

Product Description


'Remains unchallenged as the perfect introduction to its subject ... exactly the kind of philosophy that most people would like to read, but which only Russell could possibly have written.' - Ray Monk, University of Southampton, UK

'Beautiful and luminous prose, not merely classically clear but scrupulously honest.' - Isaiah Berlin

'It is a witty bird's-eye view of the main figures in Western thought enlivened by references to the personalities and quirks of the thinkers themselves.' - The Week

'A great philosopher's lucid and magisterial look at the history of his own subject, wonderfully readable and enlightening.' - The Observer

From the Publisher

As part of our commitment to Russell publishing, the delux version of this bestselling title will continue to be available. Paperback: ISBN: 0415-078547 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Mike Sadler on 12 Feb 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am not a philosophy student myself, and I find Bertrand Russell's acerbic style extremely readable. The 2 inch thick book is fascinating, funny and too short. Bertrand Russell's style is not the dry, carefully unbiased style of the accademic, but a colourful walk through several millenia of philosophers and their work. I would thoroughly recommend this book to any readers who have an interest in the development of moral, ethical and analytical thought in Europe.
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75 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Student on 26 April 2006
Format: Paperback
As a student of philosophy I can't stress enough the help this book has given me. As my understanding of philosophy increases, it has become more apparent that philosophers and their theories are interconnected in many ways. This is where this book comes in. It is a great reference book that provides a link between philosophers from Ancient Greece to the 20th century. Russell tells you about the life of individual philosophers, religious thought and philsophical schools in great detail, combined with their influences, theories and inspirations. All explained in as little jargon as possible, Russell focuses in on the major contributions that changed western thought.

This is essentially three books compiled into one - Ancient, Catholic and Modern philosophy. In book 1, Russell kicks off with the rise of greek civilisation and its relationship to Mesopotamia and Egypt. Then the Pre-Socratic philosophers, through to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and finally the Roman Empire. Book 2 takes you through the rise of Christian thought, the forefathers of Theology, the Dark Ages, Mohammedan culture and its philosophy. Book 3 starts at the Renaissance, through the rise of science and upto the Romantic period with Rousseau. Finally it moves through onto the 20th century through Kant, Hegel, Byron, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Marx. Inbetween the different 'books' Russell tells you the relevant connections and changes of philosophy that took place.

Due to the nature and great expanse of philosophy, it is no doubt impossible to fit every detail into this book as Russell explains, and that is why some of the chapters are explained or mentioned to how Russell sees them worthy and their effect or change on western thought. But but he did a great job considering its size and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to students, non-students or anyone interested in philosophy.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rerevisionist on 4 July 2009
Format: Paperback
Best book on philosophy that I know of. But don't get the idea that it's simple: Russell's style is clear, and he is witty, and this can lead readers to think his material is simple; but Russell now and then puts in very sharp and complicated theory-of-types analysis. Its divided mostly into names, which is handy for anyone dipping into the views of Parmenides, Plato, Bacon, Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Spinoza, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Nietzsche... there's a long list. Russell is happy to admit that academic philosophers have usually been cowardly types, and admits many names (e.g. Byron) not normally considered philosophers.

Russell's style is so convincing he was often plagiarised - unconscious imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Joad (who copied Russell on Marx), and Aldous Huxley (who based Brave New World on a Russell work) are just two examples.

There are innumerable asides, which I presume (he wrote and assembled this book aged about 70) were the fruit of discussions in his youth and middle age; on psychology, groups, sex, emotions, animals, ethics, totalitarianism, adventures, trade - a vast range of topics.

I recommend this to everyone willing to take some trouble. I've met many people who would have benefitted from its intellectual stiffening - for example a gifted physics man who couldn't seem to grasp that atoms are mostly holes, even though they don't look that way. And who had never understood that the square root of two is 'irrational'. Hoary problems - 'universals', 'analytical' and 'synthetic', 'induction', 'teleology', 'determinism' - appear here and there, and it can do no harm to know about them.
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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Mr. R. Dawson on 2 Aug 2002
Format: Paperback
The book conveys a brilliant sense of the development of philosophy from ancient Greek cults to modern logical analysis. Ancient philosophers are treated with the respect that they deserve for getting philosophy out of the starting gates and for their unashamed delight in anything that they could debate about. Russell celebrates Democritus' atomic theory and Aristarchus' heliocentric hypothesis and rarely uses the word crude when discussing ancient philosophies. And the benefits of logical analysis are displayed by identifying techniques as they emerge in the work of particular philosophers as well as by Russell's own discussions. Philosophy really is shown as closely related to community life- dispelling the image of the philosopher hidden away from the world in an ivory tower.
The above merits make the book a good introduction and a real insight for those who know philosophy but lack knowledge of its history. However, I cannot recommend it as a reference book. Russell fails to treat some very important philosophers (e.g. Kierkegaard, Husserl and Heidegger) and gives disproportionate space to lesser figures (Bergson, Dewey and Byron). The strengths of Kantian philosophy are almost completely missed. The least developed elements in Nietzsche's philosophy are emphasized to the exclusion of the more developed ones. The out of date elements of Aristotle's ethics are criticized and Aristotle's attempt to put ethics on a purely factual basis is ignored. Also, Russell's discussions often fail to acknowledge the approaches G E Moore and others have taken to the 'is-ought gap' (Russell just states his relativism and leaves it) as well as important elements in Wittgenstein (I suspect partly because Wittgenstein's philosophy makes a strong attack upon Russell's epistemology).
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