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Wittgenstein's Poker by John Eidinow

Wittgenstein's Poker (original 2001; edition 2005)

by John Eidinow, David Edmonds

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1,258146,290 (3.53)19
Title:Wittgenstein's Poker
Authors:John Eidinow
Other authors:David Edmonds
Info:Faber & Faber Non-Fiction (2005), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers by David Edmonds (Author) (2001)

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    Kuhn vs. Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science by Steve Fuller (VanishedOne)
    VanishedOne: The recommendation will be stronger for those interested in Popper.

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3.5 Stars.
Ostensibly about a 10 minute argument between philosophers Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein at Cambridge in 1946, but much wider in scope than that. The book delves extensively into the background of each. Both being Viennese Jews we get many pages on the treatment of Jews before and after the Anschluss. Their place of origin being pretty much all they had in common apart from their formidable force of personality bordering on a kind of bullying when it came to arguing their philosophies. Wittgenstein adamant that philosophy was nothing but puzzles emerging from the misuse or limitations of language. Popper firmly ensconsed in the old traditions of philosophy trying to make sense of real problems such as the nature of science, meaning of infinity, probability etc.

The book does a good job in setting the scene for the argument by detailing the differences between the two. Along the way we get a between the wars European history lesson, a skim through the main areas of western philosophy at the time, a flavour of life at Cambridge University and a glimpse into the minds of a couple of geniuses. ( )
  Lord_Boris | Feb 21, 2017 |
While it purports to be about an emphatic argument between Wittgenstein and Popper, the book actually uses that incident as a way into exploring the cultural background of both authors, especially the way they were both shaped by Vienna and the rise o the Nazis. There is some philosophy there, but it's treated very lightly and simply. I probably would have gotten more out of the book if it wasn't retreading so much of what I already sorta knew, but it remains a breezy & easy-to-read exploration of the issue. The one unfortunate part was near the end where having covered all the ground and context, the author tries to lamely circle back to the original encounter and reenact it novelistically; it feels both poorly-written and hollow, since most of the vigor at that point has gone to the comparatively more interesting backgrounds of our two antagonists.

As far as literary relatives go, pre-anschluss Vienna is described extensively and exquisitely in Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, itself a series of essays and recollections on important figures of the last century. Errol Morris, in his essays for the NY Times, also will circle topics in the same sort of fashion—albeit with more gumshoe detective work and exploration into the ideological issues underlying the ambiguity. Both authors, James and Morris, are highly recommended above this book. But don't let that scare you off; it's a super-fast, surprisingly short read.

EDIT: Upped it to four stars retrospectively because I was leafing through the book and enjoying the hilarious Wittgenstein epigraphs. Really, the reason I (and most others) are so entranced with him is because he is hilarious to read about despite being an asshole in real life. He just said the funniest shit! ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
A history of the in(famous) poker incident between Wittgenstein and Popper, in which the meeting in question is scrutinized intensely to see if some sort of undisputed version can be arrived at. The authors use the meeting as a focal point through which to offer up biographies of the two combatants and their schools of philosophical thought, and it does the trick nicely. Readable and very interesting. ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 7, 2014 |
My first reading of this book left little impression, so much that revisiting it five years later I can hardly recall my earlier thoughts about it. The second reading has been more fruitful.

Edmonds and Eidinow spend more time than needed trying to imagine exactly what happened in the meeting in question. More interesting is the history of some of the important ideas of the first half of the 20th century covered in this book.

Neither man is painted very sympathetically as a person, but both come across as the important thinkers that they were.

The value of this book is in how it presents the ideas of Wittgenstein and of Popper not in isolation but in relation to each other, and to philosophical thought of their time. ( )
  mykl-s | Apr 24, 2014 |
The book centers around a brief encounter between Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein during a seminar by Popper at Cambridge. Before starting the book I wondered how such a fleeting event could merit 200 pages of text but the poker incident is more of a metaphor for the opposing philosophical views of the two men. Popper and Wittgenstein were both giants of 20th century philosophy and this book presents an excellent summary of their work and continued influence on science and philosophy. Overall I found it a very enjoyable read. ( )
2 vote joeteo1 | Jul 28, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edmonds, DavidAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eidinow, JohnAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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I know that queer things happen in this world. It's one of the few things I've really learned in my life.

Great men can make mistakes.

To Hannah and Herbert Edmonds and to Elisabeth Eidinow
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On the evening of Friday, 25 October 1946 the Cambridge Moral Science Club—a weekly discussion group for the university's philosophers and philosophy students—held one of its regular meetings.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060936649, Paperback)

On October 25, 1946, in a crowded room in Cambridge, England, the great twentieth-century philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper came face to face for the first and only time. The meeting -- which lasted ten minutes -- did not go well. Their loud and aggressive confrontation became the stuff of instant legend, but precisely what happened during that brief confrontation remained for decades the subject of intense disagreement.

An engaging mix of philosophy, history, biography, and literary detection, Wittgenstein's Poker explores, through the Popper/Wittgenstein confrontation, the history of philosophy in the twentieth century. It evokes the tumult of fin-de-siécle Vienna, Wittgentein's and Popper's birthplace; the tragedy of the Nazi takeover of Austria; and postwar Cambridge University, with its eccentric set of philosophy dons, including Bertrand Russell. At the center of the story stand the two giants of philosophy themselves -- proud, irascible, larger than life -- and spoiling for a fight.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:38 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

On October 25, 1946, in Cambridge, England, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper came face-to-face for the first and only time. The encounter lasted just ten minutes, and did not go well. Their loud and aggressive confrontation became the stuff of instant legend. Almost immediately, rumors spread around the world that the two great philosophers had come to blows, armed with red-hot pokers. Twenty years later, when Popper wrote an account of the incident, he portrayed himself as the victor, provoking intense disagreement. Everyone present seems to have remembered events differently. What really happened in those ten minutes? And what does the violence of this brief exchange tell us about these two men, modern philosophy, and the significance of language in solving our philosophical problems? Wittgenstein's poker is an engaging mix of philosophy, history, biography, and literary detection.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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