Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin : A Life

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Isaiah Berlin refused to write an autobiography, but he agreed to talk about himself - and so for ten years, he allowed Michael Ignatieff to interview him. Isaiah 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, he witnessed the Russian Revolution, was plunged into suburban school life and the ferment of 1930s Oxford; he became part of the British intellectual establishment During the war, he as at the heart of Anglo-American diplomacy in Washington; afterwards in Moscow he saw the grim despair of Stalinism. The book is full of memorable meetings - with Virginia Woolf and Sigmund Freud, with Churchill, with Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova. Yet Ignatieff is not afraid to delve into Berlin's conflicts: his jewish idealism, his deep aspirations. This is a work of great subtelty and penetration, exhilarating and intimate, powerful and more

Product details

  • Paperback | 384 pages
  • 130 x 194 x 30mm | 258.55g
  • Vintage Publishing
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • facsimiles, portraits
  • 0099577313
  • 9780099577317
  • 292,342

Back cover copy

Isaiah Berlin was witness to a century. Born in Riga in the twilight of the Tsarist empire, he lived long enough to see the Soviet state collapse. Biographer of Marx, scholar of the Romantic movement, and defender of the liberal idea of freedom against Soviet tyranny, Berlin was the presiding judge of intellectual life on both sides of the Atlantic. When he died in 1997, he was hailed as the most important liberal philosopher of his time.But Berlin's life was not only a life of the mind. From Albert Einstein to Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill to Anna Akhmatova, his circle of friends constitutes a veritable who's who of twentieth-century art, politics, and philosophy. In this definitive work, the result of a remarkable ten-year collaboration between biographer and subject, Michael Ignatieff charts the emergence of a unique temperament -- serene, comic, secular, and unafraid -- and a singular more

Review quote

"A work of literature and an eloquent explanation of this most remarkable twentieth-century figure...Though Berlin will be the subject of many future studies, one cannot imagine anyone feeling the need to improve on this biography" Observer "Enthralling...More than an authorised biography...An affectionate and admiring, but none the less independently-minded portrait...A serious book, but also a vivid, lively and uplifting one" Evening Standard "Reading Ignatieff's Isaiah Berlin, you feel you are understanding not only Isaiah Berlin, but the history...I do not see how there could be a more insightful, more erudite, biography of this remarkable man" -- Doris Lessing Times Literary Supplement "A rare gem of a book...It will add a new dimension to the afterlife of the philosopher" Sunday Times "Brings off the near-impossible - a lifelike portrait of a man who was loved by his friends not for what he wrote, but what he said" -- Humphrey Carpenter Sunday Times Books of the Yearshow more

Review Text

Around Isaiah Berlin's life hangs a fairy-tale air. It was all public success and private happiness, including an ideally happy marriage. Even in old age, he seemed to talk like a magical child from whose lips pour rubies and pearls - which, metaphorically, sparkled like the real thing. With sober, detailed documentation, this book traces the story of a Latvian-born Jew, steeped in Russian culture, who became a hugely respected, highly honoured intellectual pet of the Establishment on both sides of the Atlantic. Copiously though he talked, Berlin spoke little of himself and shrank from autobiography. Ignatieff was privileged to win his confidence and be approved as his biographer. Without probing Berlin's personality in depth, he has produced a careful, intimate and convincing portrait. His patent empathy has not prevented him from indicating Berlin's tendency - typical perhaps of the alien and the refugee - to avoid strong moral commitment and to savour social acceptance. Yet, whatever its human flaws, Berlin's life was that of a man whose brilliant, benevolent intelligence stands out like a beacon in the dark, destructive climate of the 20th century. Review by SIR MICHAEL LEVEY Editor's note: Sir Michael Levey, art historian and former director of the National Gallery in London, is the author of Florence: A Portrait. (Kirkus UK)show more