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Unpopular Essays

Unpopular Essays [Kindle Edition]

Bertrand Russell
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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'An intellectual treat...the delight of this book lies in that combination of wit with perception, and of width of view with ease of expression for which Russell made himself known.' - Financial Times 'Russell is incapable of being dull as he is of being shallow' - The Observer 'His writings reflect his crystalline, scintillating mind and rank him among the few masters of English style' - Sunday Times

Product Description

A classic collection of Bertrand Russell’s more controversial works, reaffirming his staunch liberal values, Unpopular Essays is one of Russell’s most characteristic and self-revealing books. Written to "combat… the growth in Dogmatism", on first publication in 1950 it met with critical acclaim and a wide readership and has since become one of his most accessible and popular books.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1022 KB
  • Print Length: 201 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0415473705
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 4 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (24 May 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001Y35HC8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #273,232 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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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."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars POPULIST ESSAYS 30 July 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Russell was not really an iconoclast, much less a rebel, least of all any revolutionary. His speciality was stating the obvious when orthodoxy did not want it stated, and pointing out what ought to have been obvious when lumpen conventional opinion could not be bothered looking for it. He also made statements and advanced arguments at times that were just plumb wrong or at least implausible, which makes him like any of the rest of us; but for the most part when he advanced opinions that went against the grain he didn't do it simply to annoy because he knew it teased, it usually meant that there was something wrong with the grain. He wasn't really a preacher either, in the sense that he had no great message of his own. His mind was basically analytical, and what drove him was a wish to counter what he saw as error, often dangerous error. He had a strong theoretical bent as everyone knows, but what marks him out among the generality of philosophers is his strong desire to communicate with not just students and other specialists but with the world at large.

This collection was published in 1950, and its contents date from the 15 years leading up to that time. They include his tongue-in-cheek self-obituary which he thought would be printed in his 91st year, although in the end he lived to age 97, finally falling victim to influenza; but what they are mainly concerned with is politics and philosophy. One of the political pieces is The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed, making the perfectly sensible point that the oppressed have no superior virtue. The reason why we should support the oppressed, it seems obvious to me, is simply that they are oppressed and not that they possess some sainthood bestowed on them by the sentimental.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
In this `popular' book, B. Russell demolishes the philosophy of Hegel (and Marx) and gives blunt and/or harsh comments on ancient philosophy (Plato and Aristotle), communism, the US, religion and the (black) future of mankind.

B. Russell was cured of Hegelitis by discovering that everything Hegel said on the philosophy of mathematics was just plain nonsense.
B. Russell summarizes Hegel's philosophy as follows: there is an apparent reality, consisting of the every-day world in space and time. But `real' reality is timeless and can only be determined by logic (pure thought, dialectics). This reality is called `the Absolute Idea', or `pure thought thinking about pure thought'.
Those, who are forced to live as slaves of a temporal process, and who see only the parts, are only illusory products of illusion.
For B. Russell, Hegel's philosophy means, translated in political terms, that true liberty consists in obedience to an arbitrary authority, that free speech is an evil, that absolute monarchy is good, that the Prussian State was the best existing at the time Hegel wrote and that war is good.
Marx adopted Hegel's belief that history develops according to a logical plan and concluded that the victory of the proletariat was a scientific certainty.

The US
B. Russell admired the US for its freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry and freedom discussion.

B. Russell saw in communist countries that education is reduced to learning the formulae of orthodoxy and that `science and philosophy, art and literature will become sycophantic adjuncts of government.'

For B. Russell, the representatives of religion, the clergy, fought a losing battle against science.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unpopular Essays by Bertrand Russell 13 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book of essays highlights why Bertrand Russell was one of the most eloquent rationalist of the 20th century. He was, and his books still are, an important insight into the absurdity of the superstitions that still plague mankind.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pellucid prose from the sharpest wit of the century 18 Feb 2001
By Daniel Myers - Published on
Here is a short and easy way of capturing the sparkle and pixie wit of Lord Russell. It is also a good way to keep yourself laughing continuously in impish delight for several hours as Russell skewers dogma after dogma. One is reminded of nothing so much as a lightweight master of the epee skipping through an army of Goliaths armed with heavy truncheons and running his sword through them, one after another, before they know what has happened.-Just one example, the philosophic Goliath known as Aristotle: "Aristotle, in spite of his reputation, is full of absurdities. He says that children should be conceived in the winter, when the wind is in the north, and that if people marry too young the children will be female. He tells us that the blood of the female is blacker than that of males...that women have fewer teeth than men and so on. Nevertheless, he is considered by the great majority of philosophers a paragon of wisdom." So much for Aristotle. He also never tires of skewering the clergy in general and their obscurantism. One of the most amusing sections is his account of the clergy's reaction to the invention of the lighning-rod: "When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning-rod, the clergy, both in England and America, with the enthusiastic support of George III, condemned it as an impious attempt to defeat the will of God. For, as all right-thinking people were aware, lightning is sent by God to punish impiety or some other grave sin-the virtuous are never struck by lightning. Therefore if God wants to strike anyone, Benjamin ought not to defeat His design..." Finally, he wasn't above a little irony in his self-penned obituary by an imaginary Obit. writer, "...His life, for all its waywardness, had a certain anachronistic consistency, reminiscent of the aristocratic rebels of the early nineteenth century. His principles were curious, but, such as they were, they governed his actions. In private life he showed none of the acerbity that marred his writings, but was a genial conversationalist and not devoid of human sympathy..."-Nobody with even the slightest mote of skepticism toward all the nonsense that's passed for wisdom and deep philosophy in ages heretofore and with a spark of life and sense of humor can leave this book without a lighter heart than when he or she first picked it up.-I can't think of any higher praise for a book.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dogmatic Anti-Dogmatism At Its Finest 23 Jan 2003
By Molon Labe - Published on
Lord Russell sets the indicative tone for this collection of mostly polemical essays in his Preface, when he explains his choice of the adjective "Unpopular" in his title. "...There are several sentences in the present volume which some unusually stupid children of ten might find a little puzzling. On this ground I do not claim that the essays are popular; and if not popular, then 'unpopular.'" Russell says exactly what he thinks, has no patience for fools and does not hesitate to ridicule muddled thinking and wrong-headed beliefs wherever he may find them.
This work contains 10 essays written between 1935 and 1950, with the common theme being the pernicious impact of dogmatic, unsupportable beliefs. By and large, Russell is highly effective in making his case across a broad range of topics, from the debunking of philosophy's giants such as Plato ("That Plato's Republic should have been admired, on its political side, by decent people is perhaps the most astonishing example of literary snobbery in all history."), Aristotle ("Aristotle, in spite of his reputation, is full of absurdities.") and Hegel ("To anyone who still cherishes the hope that man is a more or less rational animal, the success of this farrago of nonsense must be astonishing.") to the fallacies of discrimination against women, xenophobia and our modern public education system.
His sharpest attacks are reserved for Man's superstitions and particularly for those of the religious variety. Russell is a well-known rationalist thinker and atheist and his views are driven by the common sense dictum that one should only believe that which has sufficient supporting, scientific evidence. This leads to the view that deism is unlikely and that modern revealed religions are pure folly. He convincingly notes the common drivers of these fatuous beliefs across epochs to be fear, a need for self-importance, ignorance and socialization.
My primary issue with Russell is that, while he ostensibly ascribes to a "Liberal" worldview (i.e. a scientific perspective on facts and opinions that holds positions tentatively with a "consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.") and excoriates dogmatic beliefs, he can be, in fact, highly dogmatic in the presentation of his views. This is particularly disturbing when he ventures into areas he clearly does not fully grasp, such as economics. In "The Future of Mankind" (far and away the weakest of the 10 essays), he makes the highly naïve, silly statement that "Unless we can cope with the problem of abolishing war, there is no reason whatever to rejoice in labor-saving techniques, but quite the reverse." His point is that higher labor productivity leads to a lower labor requirement to generate life's necessities, thereby freeing up more people for war. Refuting this nonsense hardly seems necessary, but it should be clear that labor does not automatically flow from food production to war production and that more evolved economies do not automatically lead to more war mongering.
Notwithstanding these occasional pratfalls from the platform of reason, Russell is for the most part extremely lucid in his analyses and views. He is also sharp-witted and entertaining in his gleeful exposition of folly. All of this results in prose which is remarkably easy to read while provoking rational thought and leads to my 4-star rating.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The method -Clarity short of total comprehensiveness 16 April 2006
By Shalom Freedman - Published on
There is something wonderfully light and quick about these essays. Russell is not afraid of 'sacred cows' and he takes apart in this way philosophical greats Plato, Aristotle , Hegel, and comprehensive all - encompassing programs for understanding and shaping reality.

He defends a kind of 'enlightened liberalism' an openness to the market of ideas, a sense that truth is not the sole possession of any single vision or system.

His natural bent and lifework move him to feel close to 'observational methods' to a scientific way of understanding the world. It is interesting that though Russell is generally identified as a radical leftist he takes apart the Marxian historical straightjacket, as well as the Hegelian one.

Russell writes so clearly and cleverly , seems to provide such ready and reasonable answers to any questions he raises that it is only through more reflective rereading that one begins to see, his prejudices also.

Our scientific, and technological universe has changed so dramatically in the years since this work was written that it would of course be instructive to know what Russell would think about ' Internet' and ' stem cell research' and a kind of ' post- modernism' which is one possible path that might come out of his own pluralism and liberalism.

It is interesting that in the small chapters towards the end where he writes about those he admires, the one philosopher who wins his praise as person is Pragmatism's, Truth- as - cash - value of our investigations' William James.

Russell often offends but also hits the mark palpably many times.

This work is a pleasure to read, but not for the answers it provides but for its open- minded way of questioning.a
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great style, clear thinking 3 April 2002
By Judith C. Kinney - Published on
I had never read anything by Bertrand Russell before. I thought he would be difficult, but these essays were lucid and humorous. He manages to demolish the theories of almost every great philosopher of the past. His predictions for the future, either chaos or world government, haven't materialized yet, but either is still a possibility.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific Polemicist 22 Oct 2000
By warisill - Published on
Russell skewers all who believe they are right, regardless of their motivation. To him, anyone spouting Dogma is an open target for ridicule.
My favorite piece, "the superior virtue of the oppressed" is as relevent today as it was eighty years ago. In it, he attacks those who look for a cause to call their own. He dispells the notion of the good ole days and questions whether any group of humans is morally superior to any other, regardless of their place in the power scheme.
A truly terrific writer. If you haven't read Russell, you know nothing about philosophy.
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The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way in which opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology. &quote;
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If it were indeed the case that bad nourishment, little education, lack of air and sunshine, unhealthy housing conditions, and overwork produce better people than are produced by good nourishment, open air, adequate education and housing, and a reasonable amount of leisure, the whole case for economic reconstruction would collapse, and we could rejoice that such a large percentage of the population enjoys the conditions that make for virtue. &quote;
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Both in intellectual and practical matters he stood for order without authority; this might be taken as the motto both of science and of Liberalism. &quote;
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