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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb layman's guide
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...
Published on 12 Feb 2004 by Mike Sadler

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars dark side of the moon
I have read this many times in both love and hatred . In short Russell is a flawed genius. If he took his own advice on Nietzsche and made an emotional response to Friederich's hammerwork maybe he coud have saved himself.

The philosophers absent from the history are pertinent - I can understand the squemishness towards Heidegger, but to leave out both...
Published on 12 May 2011 by Mr. David R. Portus


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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb layman's guide, 12 Feb 2004
By 
Mike Sadler (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: History of Western Philosophy (Paperback)
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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73 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, 26 April 2006
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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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read and a good introduction, 2 Aug 2002
By 
Mr. R. Dawson "Doorknob" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: History of Western Philosophy (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). But these faults are at least mainly isolated to the section on modern philosophy.
Despite these shortcomings, the book is still well worth reading. It is often insightful and at points Russell's illustrations can be ingenious. But I would recommend that the student looking for a reference book should either buy a compilation of essays by different authors (and thus avoid the prejudices and gaps in knowledge of a single author) or also buy a seperate book on modern philosophy.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best single volume on philosophy., 4 July 2009
By 
Rerevisionist (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
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. Russell also is good at picking out the odd practical effects of beliefs: just one example: Stoics and Christians both believed (supposedly) in personal virtue: if external circumstances cannot prevent a man from being virtuous, there is no need to seek a 'just' social system.

There are omissions, all I think to do with demarcation problems - the boundaries of philosophy, apart from politics, history, science, economics, and psychology. Darwin isn't here (much). Freud isn't here - but then Russell regarded the idea of unconscious motivation as the only significant part of Freud. Adam Smith isn't in. Marx is only treated as a philosopher: his economics is looked at by Russell in another book. Note that Russell seemed to regard Marx as 'socialistic'. All Russell's history in a sense is official: there must be innumerable people who were censored or killed or otherwise silenced; but Russell doesn't really bother with them. His book is a bit like commentary on a tidy, ordered library.

Russell's history is typical 20th century western: prehistory, with Egypt, Babylon and the rest regarded as 'oriental despotisms'. Rather inconsistently, the Bible is admitted. There's a conspiracy of silence about Jewish beliefs. Then Greece, then Rome; then the dark ages, and 'middle ages'; Russell accepts that Islam was a transmitter, though I'm not sure he makes a good case. Finally, modern enlightenment and science. Not much was known about many chunks of history, so this schema appeared satisfactory. Some of his historical comments are typically Victorian: the dislike of Rousseau from hatred of the French revolution, and of Rousseau as the supposed origin of romanticism and silliness. Rousseau and Nietzsche and Carlyle were supposed to have led to extremism and Auschwitz; Plato and Sparta to Stalin.

When eras change, Russell usually finds transitional people or ideas as exemplars: the Greeks treated in the then-usual awed way as a mix of peoples; Christianity as taking in Platonic and Judaic elements; Europe as church vs monarchs and feudal nobility and knights; Machiavelli, Erasmus and More at about the Renaissance. ...

Russell himself doubted his success in describing the relation of philosophy to social events when science became important. Russell mostly knew maths, but was notoriously hopeless in practical activities; he literally couldn't make a cup of tea. Such things as the rise and fall of the idea of phlogiston, the growth of chemistry, changes in transport, and such things as anaesthesia, aren't really covered but taken for granted, in rather the way unreflective people seem to think motor cars and piped water and printing have always existed.

Some accuse Russell of bias; typically these are:-

[1] Catholics often can't face the rationalistic side of Russell. (They don't seem to know that Russell wrote a lot on mysticism).

[2] People who like Kant and Hegel, and Nietzsche. Russell was not keen on German philosophy - when he was young, all official philosophers were Hegelians. He followed G E Moore in 'climbing down'.

[3] Supporters of Wittgenstein. Russell was a friend of his, and liked his work when it was new, but decided later it was rather trivial

[4] Supporters of Sartre and other existentialists. Russell dismissed it in a sentence: based emotionally on exasperation, and intellectually on errors of syntax.

[5] 'Linguistic' philosophers of the Gilbert Ryle type - 'just another clever man' according to Russell.

Note that, near the end of his life, Russell spent years on the problem of nuclear weapons, Kennedy's assassination, and, later, the Americans and the Vietnam War. For this reason he's partly censored, still.

It's a pity there is no equivalent book on eastern philosophies... Incidentally 'Sophie's World' is based on Russell.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unrivalled, 23 April 2003
By 
Peter Dzwig (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: History of Western Philosophy (Paperback)
Russell’s History of Western Philosophy no doubt suffers from drawbacks, and may not reflect the positions that some would like, and certainly there IS an agenda of his own lurking behind the text. BUT - and this is a very big but - few writers could ever have aspired to writing such a book with such style, verve and elan that it stands the test of time so well after so many years. There are very good reasons why it won its author such plaudits. No reader with an open mind and a willingness to accept that even the greatest amongst us have shortcomings, can fail to be impressed by one of the greatest books of its kind written by one of the pre-eminent minds of the last century.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to the Subject, 18 Dec 2007
By 
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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Being an engineering student, the closest brush I had with the formal study of philosophy was a few university courses, which I barely passed. Therefore, I decided to buy Bertrand Russell's classic work in order to refresh my knowledge. I wish I had done it earlier.

Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, enlivens philosophy-from ancient Greece to today. His account is lengthy, as any account of such a subject should, but well worth it. How else does one condense 3000 years of Western intellectual history in one volume?

I liked the pace of the book. He begins with a definition of philosophy and its roots in the Ancient world. It is not so much a list of facts as it is a discussion of the ideas of the Ancients. Absurd though it seems to us today, the leap from religious explanations to material for nature was ground-breaking. He then follows philosophy as it slithers through the Middle Ages, into the Renaissance and into the Modern Period. I particularly like the way he treated the medieval philosophers, like Aquinas and Ockam. I wish my philosophy professor at Univerity could have explained nominalism that way.

The work is an introduction to the subject. By definition, it is superficial in a few areas. I would have liked to see more about how contemporary (to Russell) issues like the Worlds Wars were connected to eighteenth century European thinkers such as Hegel.

In conclusion, it is a great read. One I recommend for any reflective 16-year old, who is thinking about studying an applied science like engineering. Russell's work is a great introduction to the subject. It will enable one to see where our currently rational, scientific tradition springs from.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that will stand the test of time, 3 Aug 2004
By 
Tim Woods (Locks Heath, Southampton, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: History of Western Philosophy (Paperback)
I personally love Russell's style of writing, he is amusing, clear and concise. This book is probably the best book I've ever read, and I've read a lot of books. I study philosophy and time after time I find myself looking up chapters in this book to get a better understanding of philosophies or philosophers. Its enormous, and covers everything that is well known in the subject.
It is certainly not the right book for somebody to start with for learning philosophy though - its extremely tough going from that respect. Anybody wanting a good introduction would not do bad to look at Nigel Warburton's 'Philosophy - The Basics', or Simon Blackburn's 'Think'. Or, even better, start a course with the Open Univeristy, A211 is the best one to begin with.
I will always hold this book in high regard, its a seminal piece of work, and will always remain that way.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accesible and Enlightening, 12 May 2011
As a rather philistine individual I cannot critique this book on any philosophical grounds. However, what I will say is that it is broken down into manageable chapters, is outstandingly well written and is an extremely informative read. It tackles concepts which great minds have grappled with for millennia and explains them in very simple prose. This, for me, is the real achievement of this book, it allows one to engage with these complex theories and for this I am very grateful. This book has both entertained and educated me...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars dark side of the moon, 12 May 2011
I have read this many times in both love and hatred . In short Russell is a flawed genius. If he took his own advice on Nietzsche and made an emotional response to Friederich's hammerwork maybe he coud have saved himself.

The philosophers absent from the history are pertinent - I can understand the squemishness towards Heidegger, but to leave out both Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard ? And why leave out the inconvenient half of Hume ? and anything from Plato that swims against Russell's stream ?

Definitely a 'whig history' . But an essential read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little dated but still a masterly work, 26 Dec 2012
By 
I. G. Norris (UK) - See all my reviews
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I first read this as a young man in the early 50's and it has informed my thinking more than I can describe. Re-reading it with the perspective of a lifetime's experience of political, ethical and religious developments has proved fascinating. Russell treats with repect the complex issues that have engaged thinkers throughout the millenia even when he clearly disagrees with their conclusions. As he says, to understand someone else's views properly you must first suspend criticism and seek to enter into the mind set of that person, and ask what has influenced him in coming to his conclusions. Only then can you start to evaluate the evidence supporting or undermining that position. This is also true in one's approach to this book because much has happened since it was written, particularly in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary theory, that casts new light on many of the most fundamental philosophical issues. Even as a first-time read this is an outstanding overview of the way great thinkers have influenced the way we think today and the still unresolved issues that, if we are serious thinkers ourselves, we still seek to resolve.
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History of Western Philosophy
History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (Paperback - 17 Feb 2000)
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