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November 27, 2002

Wittgenstein's Poker

This is my latest library experiment (see the link in the title for the complete first chapter). The subject refers to a meeting between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper at a session of the Moral Science Club at Cambridge in 1946, where one version of events has Wittgenstein becoming so upset with Popper that he threatened him with a fireplace poker.

I have surprised myself by covering a third of the book so far. I was expecting a rather overblown puff piece, given that the central topic can be exhausted in a chapter or two. And indeed, the second chapter is devoted not to the central topic, but to life and culture in Cambridge, post-War. It's fair that the authors dwell on the background of the participants of the meeting that day, so that absorbs another passel of pages. But they are in danger at every step of devolving into an epsiode of "In Search Of...", or "History's Mysteries".

What may be the saving grace of this book is how the authors use the central conflict as a springboard for exploring the schools of philosophy and politics of the time. This is what I was 'promised' by one review, and I continue to read with that expectation. I'm nevertheless 'impressed' that I've read this far, since usually I grab books like this from the library exactly because they are useful only for browsing and a quick skim.

That's been the fate of several books I've not bothered to mention here, the latest being The Hunt for Zero Point, by Nick Cook. That book, by a former editor of Jane's Defense Weekly, purported to be a investigative report into the government cover-up of secret anti-gravity research. The book was full of plates showing napkin sketches for secret engines and fuzzy photographs of delta-wing planes. Anything that could be construed as proof of something unconventional. It harkened back to the days of my youth when I read such books as Flying Saucers: Serious Business, by Frank Edwards. I had a few good laughs, but didn't bother plowing through it.

Posted by dpwakefield at November 27, 2002 09:09 AM