BERTRAND RUSSELL by Caroline Moorehead


A Life
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 Ambitious biography by Moorehead (ed., Betrayal, 1990, etc.) of one of the most fascinating of modern British lives, taking in a century of social and cultural upheaval. Born in 1872 into a world of high Victorian privilege, heir to an earldom, Russell crammed an almost bewildering variety of activity into his 98 years, involving himself indefatigably not only in progressive causes of all kinds--free trade, women's suffrage, pacifism, progressive education, disarmament--but in the construction of a common intellectual culture in the broadest sense. As controversial as he was hugely popular and energetic, Russell pursued simultaneous careers as academic philosopher, scientific popularizer, moralist, social commentator, and general public intellectual of a type scarcely imaginable today, becoming in his 90s the West's corrosive self-styled antinuclear conscience. (Among modern philosophers, only Sartre enjoyed comparable public standing--but whereas Sartre's philosophy was integral to his public persona, Russell's particular brand of analytic thought wasn't, and Moorehead devotes only a small fraction of her text to the man's philosophical work.) Yet Russell remains easier to admire than to love: Moorehead reveals that his protean energies--the source of his extraordinary creativity--were profoundly destructive to those around him. In his personal relationships, Russell appears here as a man trapped in the prison of self, manipulating, draining, and exhausting his many lovers, as well as his family, friends, and colleagues: He had, as one longtime sufferer put it, ``an inevitable way of hurting one.'' Russell's personal involvements followed a constant trajectory: a brief period of intense emotional investment and intimacy--often with others as opinionated and arrogant as himself (Lawrence, Shaw, Wells, Eliot, Wittgenstein, et al.)--succeeded by disputes and an estrangement so complete as to resemble being dropped ``down an oubliette.'' Moorehead shapes Russell's complex character into a vivid and compelling portrait: an exemplary accomplishment. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-85008-X
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993


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