Monday, 30 July 2007

Sceptical Essays - Bertrand Russell

This the first of Russell's works I have read.

In some ways it is hard to believe they were written in the 1920's - in other ways e.g. politically incorrect language, it is all too obvious.

Thought-provoking and full of quotable quotes. In fact it was so tempting to give you some examples of this I would have in fact ended up quoting large parts of the whole book - which actually explains the book cover which depicts a page of text which has been completely highlighted by hand.

Russell makes the case for empiricism and rationality, pointing out that they work and recommending their use in parts of human life where they rarely seem to be applied even today. In particular his comments about books on alternative medicine, which evidence shows doesn't work, being published and selling well whilst books which contain the facts and warnings about dangerous alternative medicines can't even get a publisher.

Razor sharp wit abounds, some so sharp that you think he has missed his target (the candles remain in one piece and still alight after the rapier slash) but when you read on he hits the mark full on (and the still lighted top half of the candles drop to the floor).

Some of his arguments had this kind of delayed impact on me as well. His talk about "a unifying world power" is a classic example of what I mean. By the description alone his suggestion seems naive and silly but as you read on and he develops his arguments he doesn't seem that far away from where we are now.

I read this book in between burst of the last Harry Potter - I was sharing with my wife - and this seems a pretty good way to read it. To attempt it all at once may not give you chance to properly mentally digest the wide range of topics covered.

Overall this is worth the effort, and by if you intersperse it with something in a lighter vein like I accidentally did then it hardly seems like an effort at all.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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