Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers
By David Edmonds & John Eidinow
I read this book with a certain expectation that was never met, so as I neared the end I was increasingly annoyed. My annoyance was at my misconception and not at the book itself, but it still might affect my opinion of the book.
I expected an introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy, but throughout the book I only ever found suggestions of, or at best a few very brief synopses of, Wittgenstein's philosophical thoughts. The vast majority of the book introduced me to Wittgenstein, the person (and to Popper, too, although with roughly half as much emphasis - and apparently of esteem - by the authors): his childhood, his family and environment, his academic history, etc.*
But the book, a self-proclaimed "story of a ten-minute argument between two great philosophers," went off on long, barely-related tangents. Hoping to sculpt a background for the reader's understanding of the argument of focus, the book describes how the world shaped the personalities of Wittgenstein and Popper throughout their lives. This ended up being helpful because, due to so little factual information existing about the actual argument, the argument was described in only 17 out of the book's ~300 pages, and was told in a dream-like, nebulous fashion, leaving much to the reader's imagination. But in delving into this history of the philosophers, the authors expound upon those who affected them (e.g., family, mentors), and then those who affect those who affected them
, and then the social climate that affected some of those who affected the philosophers, etc. I can't say it was unnecessary, but much of it seemed only distantly and tenuously connected to Witgenstein's and Popper's ten-minute argument.
Also, giving the reader a background helps guide the reader toward conclusions about who did and said what during the argument, so it should be remembered that the background could be biased. Indeed, I think it is
biased towards Wittgenstein. The authors say positive things about both philosophers, and portray similar aspects of each philosopher (when talking about the childhood of one, they mention the childhood of the other; the affluence of one's family, so the other's; etc.), but in almost every instance the authors spend almost twice as much time discussing Wittgenstein as they do Popper.
That said, I did
find most of the book compelling. I kept wanting to read more; I just wish I hadn't been in the mindset of waiting for the book to finally get on to the topic I was expecting.
* I'm not suggesting that knowing the philosopher is not helpful in understanding the philosophy; I'm saying that I was expecting to learn about the philosophy and not the philosopher.