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The long-awaited Isaiah Berlin 'Reader' -- an anthology of his best and most representative work, drawn from a lifetime's writing by this most distinguished philosopher and historian of ideas.
WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY ANDREW MARR
Isaiah Berlin was one of the leading thinkers of the century, and one of the finest writers. The Proper Study of Mankind selects some of the best of his essays. The full (and enormous) range of his work is represented here, from the exposition of his most distinctive doctrine -- pluralism -- to studies of Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Churchill and Roosevelt. In these pages he encapsulates the principal movements that characterise the modern age: romanticism, historicism, Fascism, relativism, irrationalism and nationalism. His ideas are always tied to the people who conceived them, so that abstractions are brought alive. His insights both illuminate the past and offer a key to the burning issues of today.
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"Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not." So wrote Isaiah Berlin in "The Pursuit of the Ideal," the semiautobiographical essay that commences The Proper Study of Mankind, the intellectual equivalent of a "greatest hits" collection. Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1909, Berlin left the Soviet Union for England 12 years later. After being educated at St. Paul's and Oxford, he would go on to become one of the 20th century's most vigorous--and eclectic--political philosophers until his death in 1997.
The Proper Study of Mankind shows the full range of Berlin's work and the breadth of his interests. In "The Originality of Machiavelli," after summing up what others have thought of the author of The Prince, Berlin launches into his own thoughtful analysis, concluding that Machiavelli's most significant contribution to philosophy was "his de facto recognition that ends equally ultimate, equally sacred, may contradict each other, that entire systems of value may come into collision without possibility of rational arbitration, and that this happens not merely in exceptional circumstances, as a result of abnormality or accident or error ... but ... as part of the normal human situation." This concept of pluralism is the undercurrent that flows through much of Berlin's writing on the history of ideas, whether he addresses opposition to the French Enlightenment or considers Tolstoy's theory of history. Other treats to be found in this collection include the autobiographical "Conversations with Akhmatova and Pasternak" and what might be considered "intellectual profiles" of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. This book is highly recommended for any reader interested in modern philosophy; one can only hope that it will inspire some to delve into more of Berlin's work. --Ron HoganAbout the Author:
ISAIAH BERLIN was born in Riga, capital of Latvia, in 1909. When he was six, his family moved to Russia; there in 1917, in Petrograd, he witnessed both Revolutions -- Social Democratic, and Bolshevik. In 1921, his family came to England, and he was educated at St Paul's School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. At Oxford, he was a fellow of All Souls, a Fellow of New College, Professor of Social and Political Theory and 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 Crooked Timber of Humanity, The Sense of Reality, The Roots of Romanticism, The Power of Ideas, Three Critics of the Enlightenment, Freedom and its Betrayal and Liberty. As an exponent of the history of ideas Berlin 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.
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