The novel ‘The World as I Found it’ concerns the lives of philosophers GE Moore, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. There is no way of writing this sentence without this book seeming as dry as dust. I know I’ve tried. It’s a bit like saying ‘I’m having a party!’ and then following up with ‘ Did I mention they’ll be no food, music, alcohol or members of the opposite sex? ’ In other words, ‘The World as I Found it’ seems to be a totally un-inviting proposition.
Yet on completion of this influential nonfiction novel I won’t hesitate to put it in the top three books I’ve read this year.
Mainly because it’s theme is not merely philosophical ideas but how these ideas and the men that espouse them battle to survive in the real world.
Moore has to survive falling into crusty middle age on a Cambridge campus with a wife who desperately wants him to open up to her.
Russell his own vaunting ambition and rampant sexual appetite that derails his marriages and his philosophical ideas
Wittgenstein his priggishness and exacting mind that threatens to alienate him from everyone he comes across.
Of the three it is perhaps Wittgenstein who most succeeds in winning his personal war. This is sometimes not merely metaphorical but literal as when he fights in the trenches of WWI against the Russians. The horrors he witnesses seem to bring out his own inner demons as struggles with his homosexuality and his feelings about his Jewish heritage.
Indeed, Wittgenstein had the most tragic life. Three of his brothers committed suicide and some of his closest friends died in the both wars, while at bottom he had a Dad who seemed to take pleasure in actively despising him.
The deathbed scene where Ludwig confronts his cancer-ridden father is one of the most powerful and moving you’ll read anywhere.
The book is in a strange way almost anti-philosophical in that Wittgenstein in particular seems to find happiness not in writing philosophical tracts but in coming terms with who he is.
Philosophy in short is only useful to all three men when it illuminates life rather than gives men in university tutorials something to chew over.