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Russian Thinkers (Pelican Books) by Isaiah…

Russian Thinkers (Pelican Books) (original 1978; edition 1979)

by Isaiah Berlin

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485521,184 (4.37)20
Title:Russian Thinkers (Pelican Books)
Authors:Isaiah Berlin
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (1979), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, off the shelf, favorite authors
Tags:philosophy, Russian

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Russian Thinkers by Isaiah Berlin (1978)


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A classic, but at this distance I found it overly vivid and viewpointy. Probably because I didn’t see eye to eye with his portraits, or (want to) recognise his Turgenev, his Dostoevsky.

Funnily, Aileen M. Kelly sent me to Isaiah Berlin, of whom she is follower in Russian intellectual history; and she explains his great importance in the historiography, as a solitary figure against the tides of his day – yet she didn’t mention how different, in the end, her understandings of these thinkers are. Her portraits (Toward Another Shore: Russian Thinkers Between Necessity and Chance) were more persuasive to me, and weighed, I think, with more balance. Perhaps she also learnt to value prose style from Berlin, because his is splendid, and I had been struck by hers. ( )
  Jakujin | Aug 23, 2016 |
In these ten essays Isiah Berlin explains the political thought and philosophy of several prominent thinkers of 19th Century Russia, while illuminating the historical context necessary for their appreciation. Among these thinkers are the great Russian novelists Tolstoy and Turgenev, as well as more overtly political figures such as Bakunin, Belinsky, and Alexander Herzen, who receive an essay each.
Russia over this period was involved right through with discontent at current social situations, with inequality, poor governance, and revolutionary thought and action in response to this.
This situation is reflected in the literature of the time from multiple angles: by those writing and thinking at the time about their own personal political philosophy in their correspondance, novels, and other forms of literature; secondly by the shaping of such literature by the censorship of government and publishers on the one hand, and by the contemporary currents of thought in society on the other.
Berlin makes it clear that there was quite a variety of opinions among the intellectuals of the time, with major disagreements over the influence that Russia should tolerate from the West, with its advancements of philosophy, art, science and technology, over the sort of society that they desired to create, the nature and desirability of liberty and individuality, and the methods that ought to be used to obtain change. Many of these topics are still relevant to politics and political philosophy today, as well as being interesting from an historical point of view.
Reading this volume served a useful and engaging introduction to Russian thought in the 19th Century, for someone who had not previously read much in this area. Particularly, the writings of Alexander Herzen and Turgenev stand out as being of interest, not only for their literary quality but for their philosophical approach to political questions that requires a more nuanced understanding of human nature and society than is provided by those further to the left such as Marx. ( )
1 vote P_S_Patrick | Jul 6, 2014 |
My current standard for critical writing. Berlin is just masterly in his command of his subject, and he's able to convey that mastery to the reader. While for my own sake, I could wish he didn't use such complex syntax -- it can be a little too easy to get lost in his dense sentences -- I can easily understand why such complicated, nuanced concepts demand such writing. The essay on Tolstoy's historiography is fascinating, and has probably made me think more about my own attitudes and assumptions toward writing and history than any other single piece of writing. ( )
  cricketbats | Mar 30, 2013 |
Classic work on Russian literature and ideas. Included in his excellent collection of essays, Russian Thinkers, Isaiah Berlin has a fascinating essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox. In this essay Berlin uses the distinction found in a fragment of the poet Archilocus that argues that there are two types of thinkers: Hedgehogs, who know one big thing and foxes, who know many things. Berlin goes on to categorize the great thinkers of the ages into groups based on this distinction. Hedgehogs like Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal and Dostoevsky versus foxes like Shakespeare, Herodotus, Aristotle, Goethe and Balzac. He goes on to attempt to classify Tolstoy and analyze his view of history. It is a worthy task and I will recommend to all that they read the essay and decide for themselves what Berlin succeeds in accomplishing with all his analysis. It is essays like this one that document the seriousness of the thought of Isaiah Berlin. His insight into Russian authors like Turgenev is magnificent. This is a delightful collection of essays. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Nov 25, 2011 |
It should be noted first that Isaiah Berlin knew his material backwards and forwards; the book bears the mark of exhaustive study. Russian Thinkers is a collection of essays on Russian luminaries, including Alexander Herzen, Belinsky, Tolstoy, Bakunin, and the populists (including Chernyshevsky). It would be helpful to have background knowledge about Russian history in this time period (mainly 19th century) before reading the book, but it is also intersting as a philosophical text, and Berlin expertly outlines the thought of these major figures. The main obstacle to reading this work may be Berlin's writing style, which is initially somewhat clunky (strangely, I found this to be the case mainly in his famous essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox"), but it does flow better once one gets used to it. Like all philosophical texts, though, what at first seems abstruse often proves rewarding and enriching. This book would be of interest to those who enjoy history or philosophy. (note: if you like this text, Personal Impressions is also worth a look) ( )
1 vote ijustgetbored | Jul 8, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isaiah Berlinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hardy, HenryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kelly, AileenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140136258, Paperback)

Among the seven essays collected in Russian Thinkers is perhaps Isaiah Berlin's most famous work, "The Hedgehog and the Fox," which begins with an ancient Greek proverb ("The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing") before taking on Leo Tolstoy's philosophy of history, showing how Tolstoy "was by nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog." The other half dozen pieces examine other Russian writers and philosophers, including Alexander Herzen, Ivan Turgenev, and Mikhail Bakunin--although the latter, Berlin says, "is not a serious thinker. There are no coherent ideas to be extracted from his writings of any period, only fire and imagination, violence and poetry, and an ungovernable desire for strong sensations." Few, if any, English-language critics have written as perceptibly about Russian thought and culture as the Latvian-born Berlin, and the history covered in Russian Thinkers is a unique elaboration of Berlin's theses concerning the impact of ideas upon culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:52 -0400)

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