Isaiah Berlin's new collection at last makes available an important body of previously unknown work by one of our leading historians of ideas, and one of the finest essayists writing in English.
Isaiah Berlin was born in Riga, now capital of Latvia, in 1909. When he was six, his family moved to Russia, and in Petrograd in 1917 Berlin witnessed both Revolutions - Social Democratic and Bolshevik. In 1921 he and his parents emigrated to England, where he was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Apart from his war service in New York, Washington, Moscow and Leningrad, he remained at Oxford thereafter - as a Fellow of All Souls, then of New College, as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, and as founding President of Wolfson College. He also held the Presidency of the British Academy. His published work includes Karl Marx, Russian Thinkers, Concepts and Categories, Against the Current, Personal Impressions, The Sense of Reality, The Proper Study of Mankind, The Roots of Romanticism, The Power of Ideas, Three Critics of the Enlightenment, Freedom and Its Betrayal, Liberty, The Soviet Mind and Political Ideas in the Romantic Age. As an exponent of the history of ideas he was awarded the Erasmus, Lippincott and Agnelli Prizes; he also received the Jerusalem Prize for his lifelong defence of civil liberties. He died in 1997.
Berlin was the leading historian of Western ideas in the post-World War II period until his recent death. His essays and interviews have now been published in several volumes. In this representative volume, Berlin traces the rise and fall of Fascist and Communist utopian thinking since the beginning of the 19th century. (LJ 5/1/97) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Berlin is a philosopher of history as well as a historian of ideas, and these nine engaging, previously unpublished essays, broadcasts, talks and lectures written or delivered between 1950 and 1972 confirm the noted Oxford scholar's breadth of vision, humanistic outlook and enormous erudition worn lightly. Deeply skeptical of system-builders of all types, whether Marxists, metaphysicians, Darwinians, positivists or scientists, he regards "-isms" as traps that all ages invent. "Political Judgment," an inquiry into what makes a politician wise or gifted, bristles with practical intelligence. In his boldest essay, "The Romantic Revolution," he argues that 18th-century romanticism, with its emphasis on subjectivity and the inner life, had a transforming effect on ethics, politics and aesthetics: Beethoven's music finds its counterpart in the worship of political individualism exemplified by Napoleon. Berlin finds much to admire in Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore's double-edged critique of colonialism, on the one hand, and in Indians' chauvinist nationalism, on the other. Overall, these essays brilliantly subject to the microscope the ever-lurking forces of irrationalism, doctrinaire ideology, prejudice and amoralism, forces that Berlin dubs the Counter-Enlightenment. (May)
If it were possible to add to a reputation already so considerable,
these essays would do it. All the productions of Berlin's long and
distinguished career are characterised by urbanity, insight,
profound scholarship and witty elegance. These traits are
satisfyingly and instructively here present again -- A.C. Grayling
* Financial Times *
As with all Berlin's essays in the history of ideas, they exude a generous, sympathetic and large-minded enthusiasm for all sorts of thinkers and all sorts of ideas that make them a continuous pleasure to read -- Alan Ryan * Times Literary Supplement *
Engrossingly readable -- John Gray * The Times *
A superb example of philosophy for the interested layman -- Shusha Guppy * Independent *
This volume is replete with wisdom and insight -- Matthew D'Ancona * Sunday Telegraph *