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Isaiah Berlin, a Life by Michael Ignatieff
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Isaiah Berlin, a Life

by Michael Ignatieff

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3177. Isaiah Berlin / A Life, by Michael Ignatieff (read 22 Mar 1999) This is a great book about a most interesting life. I found the book fun to read, even tho I am in no way qualified to say his "thought" is appreciated by me. ( )
  Schmerguls | Dec 6, 2007 |
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

Isaiah Berlin refused to write an autobiography, but he agreed to talk about himself - and so for 10 years, before's Berlin's death in November 1997, he allowed Michael Ignatieff to interview him about his past, his ideas, his most intimate memories, and his inner conflicts.
  antimuzak | Nov 9, 2005 |
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Full title (1st American edition): Isaiah Berlin : a life / Michael Ignatieff
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805055207, Hardcover)

Russian by birth, Jewish by descent, English by choice, Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) knit together three identities into a cosmopolitan sensibility that informed his contributions as one of the 20th century's most influential and important intellectuals. Based on his experiences as a child during the Russian Revolution and his friendships with such beleaguered writers as Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova, Berlin affirmed the superiority of individual freedom and judgment to Marxist totalitarianism. But he made fellow liberals uncomfortable with his unwelcome reminders that their ideals--liberty, equality, social justice--inevitably conflicted and required painful tradeoffs. London-based journalist Michael Ignatieff, who spent 10 years interviewing Berlin before his death, adeptly captures an appealing man: lighthearted, spontaneous, a brilliant conversationalist and lecturer (one of Oxford University's most popular professors), able to savor private happiness despite an essentially tragic view of political life. Ignatieff admires Berlin's views without accepting them uncritically; similarly, he acknowledges personal failings while appreciating the serenity Berlin achieved against considerable odds. This lucidly written, thoughtfully argued work is a model of the well-balanced biography, carefully evaluating the complex interplay of character and conviction in one remarkable individual. --Wendy Smith

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:06 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Isaiah Berlin was witness to a century. Born in the twilight of the Czarist empire, he lived long enough to see the Soviet state collapse. The son of a Riga timber merchant and the first Jew elected to a fellowship at All Souls, Oxford, he was a presiding judge of intellectual life on both sides of the Atlantic for sixty years: historian of the Russian intelligentsia, biographer of Marx, scholar of the Romantic movement, and defender of the liberal idea of freedom against Soviet tyranny. 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. Present at the crucial events of our age, he was in Washington during World War II, in Moscow at the dawn of the Cold War, in Israel as the new state came into being.For this definitive biography - the result of a remarkable ten-year collaboration between biographer and subject - Michael Ignatieff, himself a leading public intellectual, interviewed Berlin extensively and was granted complete access to his papers, one of the largest archives in Anglo-American cultural history. Ignatieff charts the emergence of a unique liberal temperament - serene, comic, secular, and unafraid - and he examines its influence on Berlin's vision of liberalism, which stressed the often tragic nature of political and moral choice.… (more)

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