Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers by Cheryl Misak

‘Who was Frank Ramsey?’

‘Any biography of Frank Ramsey must start with, and be haunted by, his death. He was one of the most powerful and influential thinkers Cambridge ever produced. Yet he died just shy of his twenty-seventh birthday.’

Frank Plumpton Ramsey (22 February 1903 – 19 January 1930) was a British philosopher, mathematician, and economist who made major contributions to all three fields before his death at the age of 26. He was a friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein and was instrumental in translating Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus into English. Frank Ramsey was also influenced by, and influenced, John Maynard Keynes and Bertrand Russell.

I was intrigued: how did someone who died so tragically young achieve so much? And why do I know so little about him? I picked up the book and started reading. Ms Misak describes the world Frank Ramsey inhabited, his family, and his beliefs. I was intrigued by his interactions with John Maynard Keynes, less interested in his belief in free love, fascinated by his achievements.

I do not pretend to understand all of Mr Ramsey’s achievements. I was familiar with some of his work on economic theory (from my studies in the early 1970s), but that is all. Ms Misak presents his ideas in a way that non-expert readers like me can appreciate their breadth and depth without becoming lost in technicalities.

I enjoyed reading this book, about the achievements of a young man whose contribution to the fields of economics, mathematics and philosophy should be celebrated by specialists and non-specialists alike.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith