978-0-8050-6300-4 / 9780805063004

Isaiah Berlin: A Life


Publisher:Holt Paperbacks



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About the book:

Isaiah Berlin was one of the leading liberal thinkers of the 20th century, and one of its fastest talkers. Born in the Latvian port of Riga in 1909, his family survived the Russian Revolution, but its chilly aftermath forced his Anglophile father to resettle them in Surbiton in 1921. Isaiah assimilated quickly, becoming in his mind equal parts Russian, English and Jewish, and subsequently he became the first Jew to be elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He was to spend most of his life studying and lecturing at Oxford, developing his concept of "negative liberty"; but although he longed to know one big thing, to be a "hedgehog" in his own famous definition, instead he felt more naturally a "fox", knowing many smaller things. This Reynard instinct, however, made him wonderful company, and he became that rarity: a British public intellectual, who made learning attractive. Michael Ignatieff has written a book that stands somewhere between a biography and a ghost-written autobiography, relying mostly on Berlin's own recollections gathered from conversations between them over a 10-year period. Berlin had his detractors, including himself ("superficial"), and a more critical evaluation of his contribution to philosophy will be written, but Ignatieff captures the human side of this wise and cosmopolitan man, whose deceptive "lightness of being" concealed a soul that stared at the horrors of his century. --David Vincent

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