This page contains a list of the best books on or by Bertrand Russell. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on Russell. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about Russell. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on or by Bertrand Russell in no particular order.
Russell: A Very Short Introduction – A. C. Grayling
Publisher description: Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one of the most famous and important philosophers of the twentieth century. In this account of his life and work A.C. Grayling introduces both his technical contributions to logic and philosophy, and his wide-ranging views on education, politics, war, and sexual morality. Russell is credited with being one of the prime movers of Analytic Philosophy, and with having played a part in the revolution in social attitudes witnessed throughout the twentieth-century world. This introduction gives a clear survey of Russell’s achievements across their whole range.
Russell: A Guide for the Perplexed – John Ongley & Rosalind Carey
Publisher description: Bertrand Russell was one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. Over his professional career of 45 years Russell left his mark and influence in many domains of intellectual inquiry. This includes the foundations of mathematics, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, the theory of knowledge, the philosophy of language, education, religion, history, ethics and politics.
In Russell: A Guide for the Perplexed, John Ongley and Rosalind Carey offer a clear and thorough account of the work and thought of this key thinker, providing a thematic outline of his central ideas and his enduring influence throughout the field of philosophy. The authors lay out a detailed survey of Russell’s academic, technical philosophy, exploring his work on logic, mathematics, metaphysics, language, knowledge and science. This concise and accessible book engages the reader in a deeper critical analysis of Russell’s prolific philosophical and literary output.
Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude – Ray Monk
Details the life of the acclaimed philosopher and author of Principia Mathematica, in particular his inner conflict between rigorous principle and romantic desire and his relationships with his contemporaries.
The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell – Nicholas Griffin
Publisher description: Bertrand Russell ranks as one of the giants of twentieth-century philosophy. Through his books, journalism, correspondence and political activity he exerted a profound influence on modern thought. This companion centers on Russell’s contributions to modern philosophy and, therefore, concentrates on the early part of his career. There are chapters on Russell’s contributions to the foundations of mathematics, and on his development of logical methods in philosophy and their application to such fields as epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophy of language. The intellectual background to his work is covered, as is his engagement with such contemporaries as Frege and G. E. Moore. The final chapter considers Russell as a moral philosopher. New readers will find this the most convenient and accessible guide to Russell available. Advanced students and specialists will find a conspectus of recent developments in the interpretation of Russell.
The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell – Bertrand Russell
Publisher description: Few philosophers have had a more profound influence on the course of modern philosophy than Bertrand Russell. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell is a comprehensive anthology of Russell’s most definitive essays written between 1903 and 1959. First published in 1961, this remarkable collection is a testament to a philosopher whom many consider to be one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. This is an essential introduction to the brilliance of Bertrand Russell.
The Problems of Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
Publisher description: Bertrand Russell was one of the greatest logicians since Aristotle, and one of the most important philosophers of the past two hundred years. As we approach the 125th anniversary of the Nobel laureate’s birth, his works continue to spark debate, resounding with unmatched timeliness and power.
The Problems of Philosophy, one of the most popular works in Russell’s prolific collection of writings, has become core reading in philosophy. Clear and accessible, this little book is an intelligible and stimulating guide to those problems of philosophy which often mistakenly lead to its status as too lofty and abstruse for the lay mind. Focusing on problems he believes will provoke positive and constructive discussion, Russell concentrates on knowledge rather than metaphysics, steering the reader through his famous 1910 distinction between “knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description,” and introducing important theories of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Hume, Locke, Plato, and others to lay the foundation for philosophical inquiry by general readers and scholars alike.
With a new introduction by John Perry, this valuable work is a perfect introduction to the field and will continue to stimulate philosophical discussion as it has done for nearly forty years.
Logic and Knowledge – Bertrand Russell
Publisher description: A collection of Bertrand Russell’s most important essays in the fields of logic and the theory of knowledge, which provide an understanding of the development of philosophy in England during the 20th century and of the influence upon one another of Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein.
Sceptical Essays – Bertrand Russell
Publisher description: ‘These propositions may seem mild, yet, if accepted, they would absolutely revolutionize human life.’
With these words Bertrand Russell introduces what is indeed a revolutionary book. Taking as his starting-point the irrationality of the world, he offers by contrast something ‘wildly paradoxical and subversive’ – a belief that reason should determine human actions. Today, besieged as we are by the numbing onslaught of twenty-first-century capitalism, Russell’s defence of scepticism and independence of mind is as timely as ever. In clear, engaging prose, he guides us through the key philosophical issues that affect our daily lives – freedom, happiness, emotions, ethics and beliefs – and offers no-nonsense advice.
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Interested in philosophy but don’t know where to start? Check out these resources:
- An Organized Collection of Online Philosophy Resources and Reading Lists
- A History of Western Philosophy in 66 Quotations (and 300+ online resources)
- A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations
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