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Book description
This is a very readable, informative and well written historical survey of the development of philosophy in the West, starting from the Thales all the way to Wittgenstein. Written for the informed and interested layman, it does not indulge too much into philosophical jargon, but it concisely and effectively describes many of the main thinkers and currents in western philosophical thought.Lucidly written and reflective of a great intellect, it reads like a compelling novel. The author is Bertrand Russell, and this book clearly reflects the peculiarities, strengths and weakness of this thinker: brilliant, deep, original and with a very incisive wit, but also opinionated and occasionally biased and monochromatic in his approach. Russells forays into history are also less than successful: they reflect the fact that he is no historian, and show some of the prejudices of his own culture and times: according to Bertrand, it seems that Western Civilization owes almost everything to the Classical Greece heritage, which he artificially opposes to the Eastern autocratic/theocratic regimes: a caricaturist portrait that has been debunked. Moreover, the Classical Greek civilization is preponderantly portrayed as driven mostly by aloft rationality and (quite anachronistically) by an objective pursuit of disinterested scientific inquiry, with an artificial and almost exclusive focus on its Apollonian side and virtual disregard for its equally important Dionysian side (the mystical elements in Pythagoras and Plato, just to make an example, should not be disregarded - the author occasionally pays lip service to this, but the overall approach seems quite unbalanced). He even implicitly questions Neoplatonism as not truly “Greek” because of its mystical undertones and (big sin in Russells militantly atheistic eyes) its relationship to the doctrines of early Christianity.However I do not want to sound too negative: we are still talking about Bertrand Russell, a great thinker whose brilliant intellect transpires throughout his book. A great pleasure to read, with many brilliant ideas, simply unputdownable. Full 4 stars.
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