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Private Lives

Ray Monk, 22 November 1990

... had drawn his attention to a passage in James Kirkup’s autobiography, I, Of All People. ‘Ray Monk and others,’ he went on, ‘may be as intrigued as I was.’ The passage from Kirkup is as follows: ‘I was referred to specialists at the Ingham Infirmary in Westoe Road, and at the Newcastle Infirmary – where I had once spent a few days at ...

Only Sentences

Ray Monk, 31 October 1996

Wittgenstein’s Place in 20th-Century Analytic Philosophy 
by P.M.S. Hacker.
Blackwell, 368 pp., £50, October 1996, 0 631 20098 3
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Wittgenstein: Mind and Will, Vol. IV of an Analytical Commentary on the ‘Philosophical Investigations’ 
by P.M.S. Hacker.
Blackwell, 742 pp., £90, August 1996, 0 631 18739 1
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... A feeling has been growing that analytic philosophy is in crisis. Once proud and disdainful of other traditions, it has become unsure of itself; uncertain about its past and fearful of its future. One sign of this insecurity is the debate now being conducted among leading analytic philosophers about their own history. Previously, they cared little about this ...

Russell and Ramsey

Ray Monk, 29 August 1991

Russell’s Idealist Apprenticeship 
by Nicholas Griffin.
Oxford, 409 pp., £45, January 1991, 0 19 824453 3
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Philosophical Papers 
by F.P. Ramsey, edited by D.H. Mellor.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £30, August 1990, 0 521 37480 4
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The Philosophy of F.P. Ramsey 
by Nils-Eric Sahlin.
Cambridge, 256 pp., £27.50, November 1990, 0 521 38543 1
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... It may surprise those who do not already know it that the world centre for the study of the life and work of Bertrand Russell is at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. Shortly before he died Russell sold his vast collection of manuscripts and personal papers to McMaster for a huge sum of money in order to finance the various projects of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Bookshops, 14 December 2000

... into either ‘left-hand-drive’ or ‘made in Japan’. It wasn’t like that in the days when Ray Monk ran the philosophy section of Waterstone’s on the Charing Cross Road. At the time, Monk was also writing his Life of Wittgenstein; these days he doesn’t need to work in a bookshop. Not so Robert Topping, for ...

Dealing with Disappointment

Adam Phillips: Bertrand Russell, 8 March 2001

Bertrand Russell 1921-70: The Ghost of Madness 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 574 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 224 05172 5
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... to the first volume of his biography of Russell, Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude, Ray Monk was clear, as his title indicated, about the story he had to tell, though also daunted by the amount of material he had to work with. The bibliography of Russell’s work lists more than three thousand publications, and this doesn’t include the ...


Frank Kermode, 4 April 1996

Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 720 pp., £25, April 1996, 0 224 03026 4
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... the life, and there are crowded years ahead, though it is possible they may be less interesting. Ray Monk’s much-admired biography of Wittgenstein made one feel, for a while at any rate, that the subject’s weird ascetic life and his philosophy, which he himself felt sure no one would understand, could be represented as an intelligible whole. Now he ...

My Wicked Heart

Colin McGinn, 22 November 1990

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 654 pp., £20, October 1990, 0 224 02712 3
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Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Student’s Memoir 
by Theodore Redpath.
Duckworth, 109 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 9780715623299
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... Was Wittgenstein a spiritual as well as a philosophical genius? Ray Monk’s exceptionally fine and fat biography puts us in a better position to answer this question than we have been hitherto. Perhaps the best place to begin trying to understand Wittgenstein’s character is with the photographs that exist of his face ...

Oh God, what have we done?

Jackson Lears: The Strange Career of Robert Oppenheimer, 20 December 2012

Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 818 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 0 224 06262 6
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... of the atomic bomb’, was never openly remorseful. But he was nothing if not ambivalent, as Ray Monk makes clear in his superb biography. When the fireball burst Oppenheimer remembered the words from Vishnu in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘I am become death, destroyer of worlds.’ It was his own idiosyncratic translation, and it became his most famous ...

Quadruple Tremolo

Kieran Setiya: Philosophy Then, 4 May 2023

What’s the Use of Philosophy? 
by Philip Kitcher.
Oxford, 216 pp., £12.99, January, 978 0 19 765724 9
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... to meet their curiosity, communicating their technical work with verve – as the biographers Ray Monk and Cheryl Misak have done.Kitcher is right, too, that synthetic philosophy gets short shrift. Philosophers are reluctant to offer world-formulas. This is due in part to humility, but it also reflects one of the pathologies Kitcher identifies. An ...


Colin McGinn, 21 March 1996

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Cambridge Letters 
edited by Brian McGuinness and Georg Henrik von Wright.
Blackwell, 349 pp., £45, November 1995, 0 631 19015 5
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... is one answer, but it seems a more pointed thing than that. In Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius Ray Monk reports that as a child Wittgenstein was unusually compliant and solicitous of other people’s affection, even at the expense of the truth. Perhaps he was aware of this tendency in himself and felt compelled to resist it on every possible ...

So far so Bletchley Park

John Ray, 8 June 1995

Deciphering the Indus Script 
by Asko Parpola.
Cambridge, 374 pp., £60, September 1994, 0 521 43079 8
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The World on Paper 
by David Olson.
Cambridge, 318 pp., £17.95, May 1994, 0 521 44311 3
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... be true of illiteracy as opposed to literacy: if the difference between the two were unbridgeable, monk and peasant would have developed into different species. On Olson’s own analogy of mapmaking his theory might mean that nobody has yet got round to exploring anything, since we are still waiting for somebody to come up with the first map of the terrain. To ...

Nice Thoughts

Francis Gooding: Beaks and Talons, 21 February 2019

The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist 
by Tim Birkhead.
Bloomsbury, 353 pp., £25, May 2018, 978 1 4088 7848 4
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Mrs Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names 
by Stephen Moss.
Faber, 357 pp., £16.99, February 2018, 978 1 78335 090 2
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... were undertaken in close collaboration with his friend and former tutor, the naturalist John Ray. While a student at Cambridge Willughby had worked on Ray’s groundbreaking botanical studies and they later travelled extensively in Europe, collecting the books, images, curios and specimens that would form the basis of ...

Our Island Story

Stefan Collini: The New DNB, 20 January 2005

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 
edited by H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison.
Oxford, sixty volumes, £7,500, September 2004, 9780198614111
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... biography have been persuaded to contribute an epitome here – such as Roy Foster on Yeats or Ray Monk on Bertrand Russell – and some leading literary scholars have similarly written about their favourite critical subjects, such as Christopher Ricks on Tennyson or Marilyn Butler on Jane Austen. There are one or two notable absences among historians ...

At the Grey Art Gallery

J. Hoberman: Inventing Downtown , 30 March 2017

... Spot Café, an artists’ hangout just off the Bowery, opened with Cecil Taylor, gave Thelonious Monk his first extended gig, and introduced New York to Ornette Coleman.) Many of the pieces in Inventing Downtown are proudly uncommercial. The exhibition includes work by a number of black and women painters, many of whom dropped out or were written out of ...

You would not want to be him

Colin McGinn, 19 November 1992

Bertrand Russell: A Life 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 596 pp., £20, September 1992, 9781856191807
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... goes: but it is left to the reader to try to fit the pieces together into an intelligible whole. Ray Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein succeeded in bringing an enigmatic character to life, but Moorehead’s book leaves the real Russell just out of reach – a mere compilation of deeds and words. She seems not to be able to enter into Russell’s ...

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