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Publisher's Summary

A dazzling group biography of the early 20th-century thinkers who transformed the way the world thought about math and science.

Inspired by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and Bertrand Russell and David Hilbert's pursuit of the fundamental rules of mathematics, some of the most brilliant minds of the generation came together in post-World War I Vienna to present the latest theories in mathematics, science, and philosophy and to build a strong foundation for scientific investigation. Composed of such luminaries as Kurt Gödel and Rudolf Carnap, and stimulated by the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, the Vienna Circle left an indelible mark on science.  

Exact Thinking in Demented Times tells the often outrageous, sometimes tragic, and never boring stories of the men who transformed scientific thought. A revealing work of history, this landmark book pays tribute to those who dared to reinvent knowledge from the ground up.

©2017 Karl Sigmund (P)2018 Tantor

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    5 out of 5 stars

Historical narrative, with physics and despair.

Ausgezeichnet!! This was a compelling, insightful, and even humorous historical narrative about an amazing group of minds assembled at a time of both great progress and widespread insanity. Although I had put together a vague concept of it, I not ever comprehended the scope and ramifications of the Vienna Circle. From the inner circle with Schlick, Carnap, Hahn, Neurath et al, to Wittgenstein, Popper, and Gödel at the outskirts, to Einstein, Russell, and Freud circling around the periphery, the details concerning the personalities and the interactions of brilliant minds is riveting. The drama and irony of these great and ostensibly logical thinkers being essentially overwhelmed by the relentless and progressive chaos developing in Europe in the early 20th century is both fascinating and disturbing. A little taste of the relevant physics, math, philosophy, economics, and psychology is mixed in when appropriate, but is never overly taxing. The narration by Mr. Patterson is flawless. I have almost no time for actual book reading at this time in my life and have just discovered how much is still available to me through audiobooks. This is the best of them, for me, so far. Vielen dank, Herr Doktor Sigmund.

8 people found this helpful

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Great Book for those highly interested

This is a history of the Vienna Circle, an influential philosophical society meeting in the 1920s & 30s. This includes the ideas being discussed, the individuals involved, the politics of the society and of the times, and the extended influence of the society over the future of philosophy and science.

This book jumps between these perspectives rapidly and assumes quite a bit of prior knowledge of the ideas being discussed. The biographies are mostly limited to interactions within the society and does not give well rounded human perspectives, and there is substantial inside-political-details.

Thus, this is definitely not a light history getting to know the characters. This is a rather detailed history of how the society, ideas, and individuals evolved and changed the world that was hurtling towards another world war.

This was not an easy listen, but it was definitely worth the time, and I plan on listening again.

The narration was excellent dealing very well with the technical issues.

5 people found this helpful

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An Excellent Group Biography

The author, Karl Sigmund, is an esteemed mathematician at the University of Vienna. He is clearly passionate both about the Vienna Circle and the town where lives and works. The lives of the numerous scientists, mathematicians and philosophers who were members of or adjacent to the Vienna Circle are portrayed with detail, empathy and wit.

Firstly, the book presents the pre-war period when two physicist-philosophers, Ernst Mach and Ludwig Boltzmann, laid the groundwork for what will become the Vienna Circle. Next, as WWI comes to a close, the Circle starts to form around Moritz Schlick, Hans Hahn and Otto Neurath - each very interesting characters. Fascinated by the revolutionary works of Einstein, Russell and Wittgenstein, they start regularly meeting to discuss their implications. Soon, they are joined by a great number of thinkers and develop the Scientific Worldview, underpinned by logical empiricism. All this in a politically divided and tumultuous time. In the end, the political situation of the mid to late 1930s as well as a tragic murder causes the Vienna Circle to disperse.

If you believe that the lives and work of such exact thinkers may be too dry to make for an enjoyable biography, you are in for a positive surprise. Not only is it fascinating to see how they bounce ideas off one another, but this also leads to exciting conflicts within the group. Not to mention that some of these thinkers were happy to identify as Epicurian, chasing many pleasures in life. Even the name "Vienna Circle" was chosen by the members as to evoke the finer pleasures of life such as the Vienna woods or the Viennese waltz. Additionally, there is political intrigue, an assassination of a high-ranking politician and even, as mentioned before, the tragic murder of one of the Circle's top members.

What makes the book a bit confusing from time to time, is that it is not structured chronologically the way one might expect. Given that the book deals with a great number of individuals, when the focus shifts from one person to the next, often the author jumps back by a decade or two so that we may catch up with what they've been up to. One can get used to this structure, though.

This book also does not dive deeply into logical empiricism as a philosophy. That is not a problem. That is not the job of a biography. It does, though, provide easily digestible overviews of the main ideas of certain individuals and their work. Some important debates that occur in the period and within the framework of the Circle are also presented. The only time this did not work for me is when, in a chapter on Gödel, quite a bit of mathematical and logical equations are presented. This might be because of my personal ineptitude towards maths, but I did not gain much understanding or pleasure out of these segments. It also probably doesn't work very well in audio format.

The performance of the narrator is excellent! Great diction and consistent in quality throughout.

In conclusion, this is a very enjoyable biography that teaches us how the Scientific Worldview came about, why it was so crucial in such an irrational world and that the philosophers, scientists and mathematicians involved were colourful people with lives worth knowing.

2 people found this helpful

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Fascinating work

This is a completely enthralling and fascinating work. Such richness in cultural, historical, scientific and philosophical detail. You will discover here stories and tales, arguments and counter-arguments that you cannot encounter elsewhere. Never another time like this period of ferment. Well presented by Patterson also.

Audible needs to add a PDF bibliography or source reference file to the work.

1 person found this helpful

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Appears to be broken

The file cuts off after chapter 7, was very good until then. Trying to fix or return now, hope it can be repaired.

1 person found this helpful