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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiography

Killing Time

Paul Feyerabend

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To purchase Killing Time

Title: Killing Time
Author: Paul Feyerabend
Genre: Autobiography
Written: 1994
Length: 183 pages
Availability: Killing Time - US
Killing Time - UK
Killing Time - Canada
Tuer le temps - France
Zeitverschwendung - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a good introduction to the man

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
British J. for the Phil. of Sci. . 9/1996 Robert Nola
Nature . 27/4/1995 Peter Lipton
The New Republic . 31/7/1995 Richard Rorty
New Scientist . 8/7/1995 Mike Holderness
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 28/5/1995 Nancy Maull
TLS . 23/6/1995 John Preston

  Review Consensus:

  Most of the "reviews" are more concerned with going over Feyerabend's philosophy and influence as a whole than actually reviewing the book in question (which is why there are no grade summaries for most of them). What attention is paid the book is generally favorable, with some complaints about the lack of detail and the ease with which Feyerabend dismisses certain parts of his life.

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is much to admire and much to frustrate admiration in the account. But in his instructive, stubborn and unbending refusal to be dazzled by theory, he still has no rival." - Nancy Maull, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In his autobiography Paul Feyerabend skims across a fascinating and rich life. It is an entertaining, though far too cursory account, of the fascinating and varied life of one of this centuries most curious philosophers. Completed shortly before the authors death, the last pages written when he lay partially paralyzed with an inoperable brain tumor, there is some sense of urgency about the writing. Feyerabend's life seems to have been an often fun and wild ride and he conveys this well, though many significant details are missing.
       Feyerabend acknowledges upfront (or would have us believe) that he kept no careful record of his life and threw away much of the documentation one usually preserves -- a family album thrown away "to make room for what I then thought were more important books", letters ("even from Nobel Prize winners"), and so on. His autobiography relies on various stray sources that he did manage to keep, and of course memory. The account is not entirely reliable, but certainly close enough to the truth except for some details. Its significance surely also lies in conveying Feyerabend's spirit -- which shines through on page after page
       Born in Vienna, Austria in 1924, Feyerabend describes his youth, including the strong and lasting influence of a suicidal mother (who took her life in 1943). Precocious and an excellent student, Feyerabend read widely, keenly interested in literature, drama, science and especially opera. After Austria was annexed by Germany Feyerabend volunteered for officers' school, in the hope that by the time he was finished with his training the war would be over. Sent to the eastern front Feyerabend was awarded the Iron Cross in 1944. In 1945 he was severely injured, leaving him "on crutches since 1946."
       Feyerabend went to study music in Weimar after the war ended, but wound up studying physics back in Vienna. Among his teachers were Hans Thirring and the controversial Felix Ehrenhaft, whose contentious approach to the established scientific order were a lasting influence on Feyerabend's thinking. In 1948 Feyerabend was given the opportunity to attend the Alpbach summer school forums, which he called "the most decisive step of my life." It is there he first encountered Karl Popper, another great influence on his thinking.
       Feyerabend had other opportunities -- Bertolt Brecht offered to take him on as an assistant, but Feyerabend turned him down. Elsewhere Feyerabend has expressed greater regret about this decision; here he suspects that he would not have fit in well with the "collective pressure" of the Berliner Ensemble. Upon receiving his doctorate in 1951 he applied to study under Wittgenstein in England. He was accepted, but Wittgenstein had died in the meantime. Feyerabend went to England anyway, to study with Popper at the London School of Economics.
       After a brief stint at the University of Bristol Feyerabend eventually accepted a position at Berkeley. He remained there for some 30 years, though frequently accepting teaching assignments elsewhere in the world as well. With Against Method he made a huge and lasting impact on the philosophy of science. Being "still highly marketable" in the late 60s he took advantage of the many offers he received, teaching everywhere from New Zealand to Europe to America.
       He married a number of times, though most of these relationships are skimmed over here, Feyerabend only indulging in a longer description of his fourth and last -- and apparently happiest -- union, with Grazia Borrini. Throughout the book his personal friendships and influential (and unlikely) encounters with the famous and not so famous are described, as are many theatre and opera performances, films, and books that made an impression remarked upon.
       Feyerabend weaves his life together entertainingly, though there was such a fill of events that we are shown only some of it in greater detail. His intellectual progress is suggested in this book, though also not fully followed through. Fortunately, many of Feyerabend's other works contain autobiographical sections, often providing greater information about specific events. In addition, several volumes of his correspondence (with Imre Lakatos, Hans Albert, and Hans Peter Duerr) are available, helping to provide more insight.
       It is the man, rather than the thought that is presented at the fore of this book. Welcome and useful (though Feyerabend's generous spirit and open mind are fairly evident throughout all his writing), this is a good introduction to the author and a decent complement to his work. However, we still eagerly await a comprehensive biography of this fascinating man.

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Killing Time: Reviews: Paul Feyerabend: Other books by and about Paul Feyerabend under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Paul K. Feyerabend was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1924. He received his Ph.D. in 1951, and went on to study at the London School of Economics. From 1958 to 1990 he was a lecturer and then professor at the University of California at Berkeley, while also teaching at numerous other academic institutions. The author of such works as Against Method and Science in a Free Society he was among the most influential philosophers of the second half of the 20th century. He died in 1994.

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