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The proper study of mankind: an anthology of essays (1997)
by Isaiah Berlin, Henry Hardy (Editor), Roger Hausheer (Editor)
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374527172, Paperback)"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 Hogan
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:15 -0400)
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