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Although it was met with lukewarm reviews when it was first published, Russell's History of Western Philosophy has become the preeminent work on the subject.

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Russell takes us through the great minds of western thought with a very readable and informative overview of each philosopher's view. Space is allotted according to how important, in Russell's view, their contribution has been and this generally means how much their ideas changed the world.
Russell attempts to provide a neutral perspective but his atheist views are not subtly hidden and surface whenever describing ideas which involve a deity, especially the Christian God. Nevertheless, he does not misrepresent thinkers like Augustine or Aquinas but rather his sneering tone is detectable and presumably humerous.
Aside from expounding on each thinker's philosophy and explaining the social effect Russell often criticises the ideas and refutes what he considers to be fallacious argument. Such critique is however sporadic.
The book is a great reference work but also an entertaining read and I'd like to thank the person who had my current copy (194x) before me for translating all complex words into German in minuscule but readable text in the margin throughout the entire book.
 

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