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.
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.
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!)