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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 13 August 2009
I am not entirely sure if I like this book.
It is good.
It is at first, imposing, appearing at once intellectual, difficult, especially for the non specialist, of which I am.
In fact it is quite the opposite.
It is lucid, straightforward to read, but oddly, it appears to be quite simple, but like beef, it turns out to be a chewy read, for me anyway, as my knowledge of history and events is limited. Neither an easy, nor a difficult read, but an involved read, probably due to the words, phraseology, and style of writing used, its communicative though.
It is not what I expected it to be at all, which was difficult, dry and inacessible for all but the most highbrow intellectual.
It isn't academic, and its an error to say its the history of western philosophy.
It is actually the history of western philosophy and its relations to social religious and other things going on at the time, the full title inside, which really does alter the whole remit of the work.
The fact that is relates one event and subject to others around it, is imo one of its greatest strenghs and benefits, and when you think about it, events are a product of their time, the people and what is happening, the sheer control the church had at the time is an explanation for much that was happening, history, english, I think!! is much to do with power, of kings, church, politics, people,and the book shows how though fits into this.
It is also, whilst appearing lucid and a quick read, while you start it, you subsequently get engrossed, and it takes some thinking, not difficult thinking as such, just to understand and appreciate what he is saying, hence the chewyness.
But it also has errors, or at least, omissions.
Some chapters are woefully short on analysis, for example, he tells you about the renaisance, reformation and counter reformation, but not being a historian, I have little idea about some of the event he is telling about, in fact, he doesn't tell about them, he assumes you already know.
And he already assumes you know the philosophical terminologies, eg rationalism and other isms.
I could go on and on, it IS a great work, indispensible, unique, written well, but also, does possess inadequacies.
But superb to put events in perspective.
It shows you that science, philosophy, religion are all inter-related, along with power between kings, church, politics, and people, with a little philosophy thrown in, but surprisignly, not as much as you would expect.
I cannot globally rate it, I would give it 5 stars for its indespensiblity, and ability to fit all in context, but less for its shortcomings. Some language is slightly archaic, and also bear in mind that new discoveries in archaelogy may render some of it now less accurate, eg accepted knowledge on civilisations, of which I cannot say, but it is a possibility.
I have only read a few chapters thus far on it, but enough to form a inductive prediction that the rest will follow as it is. It really isn't what you think it to be, hence my strange review of it.
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on 8 September 2011
This a concise introduction to Western philosophy which has been thoughtfully pieced together by a master craftsmen, it at times gets grammatically quite technical which for me was a little tiresome, though this is probably etymologically important.
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on 12 July 2010
This is an excellent introduction to philosophy.It is written in a compelling manner which flows well and is not encumbered by verbose or overly technical language.Even though this is a long book with a high minded subject matter it is not an intellectually arduous undertaking and should be within the capabilities of those with a modest educational background.
The only negative criticism I'd level against it was due to mid-section,which dealt with the relation between state and church in the middle ages.I felt it contained rather too much history than was necessary to establish the relationship between social and political situation and philosophical theory.That aside I'd recommend it to anyone who needs a general knowledge of the subject but is not prepared to plunge too deep or just skim the surface.
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on 31 May 2010
Coming to a subject I knew little about this book offers so much more than just a spin on philosophers and their intense cogitations. The history aspect of the Greeks is so informative. Russell fills in the gaps our history education at school completely washes over. The bit between the first century of the common era to the middle ages is especially enlightening.

I wanted to use this as a reference source but found I had to start at the beginning to get the full picture. There are blocks of work that dig far deeper than my limited intellect can cope with but it does not detract from the parts that really grip the imagination. How philosophy is really the mother of science, geometry, mathematics and religion. It's all in here and so well presented for the keen philosophy student and the casually curious.

My copy is bound to get dog-eared as I will now be able to use it as a reference source for years to come.
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on 30 January 2014
Bertrand Russell was an excellent author and this is one of his best academic works - at least up to Plato and Aristotle, His descriptions of the main philosophies of ancient Greece and their subsequent impact on Rome and the rest of the Western world provide an amazing insight into the human "scientific" mind. Unfortunately philosophy generally went off the rails after Socrates and became obsessed with religious fantasies and so called metaphysics, rather than reality, so you don't have to read beyond Aristotle to get full value out of this classic book.
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on 2 July 2001
Whilst one must admire Russell's effort in writing this book one cannot help but be struck by his analytical outlook. In the cases of Hegel and Spinoza he simply does not grasp the complexity of their systems. A virtue of the philsopher is modesty whereas Russell beleieves his analytical outlook is definitive and can almost effortlessly overcome previous thinkers. Since he does not converse outside of the restrictive style of his tradition he cannot actually expound or tackle the systems of those thinkers he is discussing. Hiedegger's attempt to re-write the history of philosophy in terms of a Fundamental Ontology does at least open itself to other systems of thought. What I suggest is that this book is of value as an expression of the analytical optimism and faith of the first half of the twentieth century.
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on 29 March 2010
I love Russell (at least what I've read so far). Why? Because he's pasionate about what he writes about and delivers in an enjoyable and engaging style with zilch professorial dryness. This is a wonderful history of the main ideas and personages of western thought cooked with the highly individual Russell spice. Expect to be informed and entertained.
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on 1 February 2009
Comprehensive and easy to read. I still don't really understand what the ancients were getting at, but Russell is honest enough to admit that he doesn't follow all their arguments either!
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on 7 July 2015
Nothing to beat Russels overview - ok- he doesn't hold back on his opinion but that helps with challenging the different points of view - a bargain price too - buy it for your collection
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on 22 March 2011
This is an incredible achievement. It is more of a history of the world than simply philosophy. Russell's ability to handle, discuss, analyse, refute, agree with and point out the weaknesses of the greatest minds ever to exist is breathtaking.
He starts with Ancient Greece, covers the source and rise of Christianity, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Enlightenment and everything! Hume and Rousseau stand out as remarkable.
If you have any interest in religion and/or philosophy I recommend that you read this incredible book.
I must confess that I am only 2/3 through this considerable tome and will update when I'm finished.
Russell has to be the greatest Polymath ever to grace the planet. He was a brilliant mathematician amongst everything else.
UPDATED.
I've downgraded this book by a star. I'm sure Bertrand would not mind. There is far too much emphasis on religion in this work. As intelligent people realise religion belongs in the realm of myth and not in the discipline of philosophy. Russell likes to discuss how each philosopher was influenced by religious belief but he does this in a non critical manner. This leads to a discussion of philosophy including religion whereas it would be better to simply mention that in older times unenlightened man was handicapped by superstitious nonsense and a lack of technology such as scanning electron microscopes, lasers, radio telescopes etc. If Plato, Socrates and Aristotle had knowledge of pulsars - objects a million times more massive than our little planet that rotate at 50 times a second! - they would not have given 'Gods' a second thought. And if anyone thinks that black holes were 'created and designed' by a supernatural deity who 'talked' to Moses then they are a deeply deluded. I suspect that Bertrand studied Greek comprehensively and he threw all his knowledge into this book that includes chapters on Byron amongst others.
This is still a fabulous book and in many ways far more interesting that a purely philosophical thesis but I got fed up of talk of creators and 'God' whatever that is. It really is time to consign the 'gods', all gods, to the trash can. So, this book is a bit of an eclectic hotchpotch. I'm sure Bertrand just threw all his knowledge of history at it and left it there without much editing once it was finished. From an authorial perspective that is the problem with brilliant minds: editing is just too boring for them!

(And surely the publisher could have made a better cover? a bunch of timepieces to signify history is such a cliche!)

JP :)
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