Hard Times, Crummy Job: Working for Albert Barnes in the 1940s

Albert Barnes was a lot of things. A great boss wasn’t one of them. Philosopher Bertrand Russell learned this the hard way.

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Albert Barnes.Hard times are the friend of jerk bosses. Who would put up with the likes of Albert C. Barnes otherwise? Philosopher Bertrand Russell learned this the hard way. In 1941, he went to work for the Barnes Foundation’s poorly socialized founder in a moment of financial desperation.

Russell—an English earl, president of the Aristotelian Society and one of the world’s leading mathematicians—spent two years trying to work amicably with Barnes. In the end, Barnes fired him anyway. “He demanded constant flattery and had a passion for quarrelling,” Russell later wrote of Barnes. “I was warned before accepting his offer that he always tired of people before long, so I exacted a five-year contract from him.”

Born to an influential family that came to prominence during the Tudor dynasty, Russell and a brother were raised by a Presbyterian grandmother after their parents died. The environment was formal, and prayer constant. Russell later wrote that he might’ve committed suicide if he hadn’t discovered Euclid, the ancient Greek mathematician, or the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose attitudes toward marriage and morals foreshadowed Russell’s own. (Shelley had two wives and several lovers; Russell doubled that record.) “I spent all my spare time reading [Shelley] and learning him by heart, knowing no one to whom I could speak of what I thought or felt,” wrote Russell.

Russell won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself in mathematics and philosophy. His 1903 work, Principles of Mathematics, is still a classic reference.

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