Isaiah Berlin: A Life
Isaiah Berlin refused to write an autobiography, but he agreed to talk about himself-and so for ten years, before Berlin's death in November 1997, he allowed Michael Ignatieff to interview him about his past, his ideas, his most intimate memories, his inner conflicts. This is an extraodinary biography, full of Berlin's own voice and presence, supplemented by untouched personal archives. It will be the authoritative biography for decades. Isiah Berlin (1909-97) was one of the greatest and most humane of modern philosophers; historian of the Russian intellgentisia, biographer of Marx, pioneering scholar of the Romantic movement and defender of the liberal idea of freedom. His own life was caught up in the most powerful currents of the century. The son of a Riga timber merchant, as a child in St Petersburg he witnessed the Russian Revolution: when his family came to England in 1921 he plunged into suburban school life and the ferment of 1930s Oxford; as a member of All Souls he was part of the British intellectual establishment. During the war, he was at the Anglo-American diplomacy in Washington; afterwards, in Moscow he saw the grim despair of Stalinism. This book is full of memorable meetings with Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, with Churchill, with Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova.
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In the four Bryn Mawr lectures, he set out the distinction he was later to make
famous between negative and positive liberty. Only at this stage, he called them '
liberal' and 'romantic'.44 Until Rousseau, liberty had always been understood ...
'Two Concepts of Liberty' made it clear what liberalism stood against. But it was
less clear about what liberalism was for - that is, how much social justice was
compatible with negative liberty, indeed how much justice was required.
Beyond the obvious circularity of this argument, the real difficulty, as John Gray
has argued, is that a pluralist logically cannot put liberty first." Liberty is simply
one of the values that must be reconciled with others; it is not the trump card.
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ISAIAH BERLIN: A LifeUser Review - Kirkus
A polished life of the century's preeminent liberal (in the classic sense) philosopher. Just as Berlin's critics complained he never wrote a single-volume magnum opus but only essays, Berlin's friends ... Read full review
Isaiah Berlin: a lifeUser Review - Not Available - Book Verdict
Ignatieff (The Warrior's Honor, LJ 1/98) met and conferred with Berlin periodically over a ten-year period until Berlin's death at the age of 88 in 1997. He also spent hours talking to Berlin's wife ... Read full review