BERTRAND RUSSELL was a profoundly influential figure in
20th-century philosophy - and one of the most visible spokesmen for
radical causes from women's suffrage to nuclear disarmament.
He was, moreover, an extraordinarily fecund correspondent. The
letters chosen by editor Nicholas Griffin in "The Selected Letters
of Bertrand Russell" represent only a fraction of the material in
the Russell archives, but well-represent Russell's brilliant,
A grandson of Lord John Russell, the champion of parliamentary
reform who served twice as Queen Victoria's prime minister,
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) continued in his family tradition of
working for political progress while reinventing the foundations of
Although his groundbreaking work in analytical philosophy is
comprehensible to only a small number of people, Russell was known
among his peers and students as a brilliant, pithy, lucid, and
witty prose stylist, who made these all-but-incomprehensible
concepts as comprehensible as humanly possible. Russell is one of
the few philosophers ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for
Literature, which he won in 1950.
In addition to such seminal works as "Principia Mathematica" (in
which Russell, along with his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead,
laid out the logical and philosophical foundations of mathematics
through the use of symbolic logic), Russell wrote numerous popular
books and essays on philosophy, politics, and education that
eloquently addressed a more general audience.
Russell was often in the thick of political controversy
throughout his 97 years. Free trade, social reform, women's rights,
birth control, nuclear-arms control, and sex education were among
his many causes. He was a courageously outspoken critic of British
jingoism in World War I. In 1940, he was fired from a teaching post
at City College of New York on the charge that his free-thinking
views were a threat to student morals.
Ironically, in view of his lifelong devotion as a philosopher to
establishing solid, incontrovertible groundworks for any system of
thought, Russell was a man of many contradictions. In the period
covered by these letters, we can discern his keen gift for
analysis, his emotional volatility, and a pattern of abrupt changes
in the way he perceived himself and the world in which he lived.
Young Russell initially supported his government in the Boer War
on the grounds that the British Empire was a force for peace: A
"war of defence," he calls it in a letter to French philosopher
Louis Couturat in 1900. …