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.