Book Review by Roy E. Perry: “Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius” a Biography by Ray Monk


Editor’s Note: Roy E. Perry reviewed books for “The Tennessean” and “Nashville Banner” for more than thirty years. “Underground Nashville” is always proud to post Mr. Perry’s latest review.


Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk, is a superb biography that illuminates both the life and the work of a modern genius. A critic writing for The Christian Science Monitor stated: “Great philosophical biographies can be counted on one hand. Monk’s life of Wittgenstein is such a one. It’s a probing, moving experience.”

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was born on April 27, 1889, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He died at the age of 62 on April 29, 1951, in Cambridge, England. Many academic professionals rate him as the most important and influential philosopher of the 20th century.

Wittgenstein had two completely different careers: the “early” Wittgenstein, author of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), a work many critics believed (incorrectly) proved that Wittgenstein was a logical positivist, and the “late” Wittgenstein, author of Philosophical Investigations (published posthumously in 1953) in which he argued that all philosophical “problems” are merely linguistic confusions—misunderstandings of the proper use of language.

In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein wrote: “Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in ‘philosophical propositions,’ but rather in the clarification of propositions. Without philosophy, thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries.”

Wittgenstein also stated, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” The aim in philosophy is to dispel the fog of confusion, or to use another metaphor, “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.”

At Trinity College, Cambridge, Wittgenstein was a protégé, and later the “master,” of another world-famous philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who described Wittgenstein’s philosophy as “a curious kind of logical mysticism.” A troubled and tortured individual, Wittgenstein is portrayed by Ray Monk as a relentless truth-seeker who struggled to live with ethical seriousness, honesty, and integrity.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius is a brilliant work that presents an embarrassment of riches, defying the ability of reviewers to do it justice. If it is legitimate to make such a claim, Ray Monk shows in this volume that, in the genre of writing biographies, he is himself a genius!

RAY MONK is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton, England, where he has taught since 1992. His works include Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude, 1872-1921 (1996); Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, 1921-1970 (2001); and Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center (2014).

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer. ************

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit:


Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit (link below) and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.” Dave Carew




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