Russian Thinkers (Penguin Philosophy)

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9780140136258: Russian Thinkers (Penguin Philosophy)

The theme that links the essays in this book, written over 30 years, is the phenomenon of the Russian intelligentsia, which Isaiah Berlin describes as "the largest single Russian contribution to social change in the world". The author brings to his portraits of Russian thinkers - and his subject range is as diverse as may be expected - a unique perception of the social and political circumstances that produced men such as Herzen, Bakunin, Turgenev, Belinsky and Tolstoy.

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Review:

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.

About the Author:

The work of Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) covered a wide variety of subjects, mostly appearing in periodicals and symposia. Apart from Russian Thinkers, Isaiah Berlin's other contributions to Russian studies include his translation of Ivan Turgenev's First Love (available from Penguin) and his Introduction to Alexander Herzen's memoirs, My Past and Thoughts. Sir Isaiah was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 1979 for the expression in his writings of the idea of the freedom of the individual in society.

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