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The essays collected in this new volume reveal Isaiah Berlin at his most lucid and accessible. He was constitutionally incapable of writing with the opacity of the specialist, but these shorter, more introductory pieces provide the perfect starting-point for the reader new to his work. Those who are already familiar with his writing will also be grateful for this further addition to his collected essays.
The connecting theme of these essays, as in the case of earlier volumes, is the crucial social and political role--past, present and future--of ideas, and of their progenitors. A rich variety of subject-matters is represented--from philosophy to education, from Russia to Israel, from Marxism to romanticism--so that the truth of Heine's warning is exemplified on a broad front. It is a warning that Berlin often referred to, and provides an answer to those who ask, as from time to time they do, why intellectual history matters.
Among the contributions are "My Intellectual Path," Berlin's last essay, a retrospective autobiographical survey of his main preoccupations; and "Jewish Slavery and Emancipation," the classic statement of his Zionist views, long unavailable in print. His other subjects include the Enlightenment, Giambattista Vico, Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Herzen, G.V. Plekhanov, the Russian intelligentsia, the idea of liberty, political realism, nationalism, and historicism. The book exhibits the full range of his enormously wide expertise and demonstrates the striking and enormously engaging individuality, as well as the power, of his own ideas.
"Over a hundred years ago, the German poet Heine warned the French not to underestimate the power of ideas: philosophical concepts nurtured in the stillness of a professor's study could destroy a civilization."--Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, 1958
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Winner of the Erasmus, Lippencott, and Agnelli Prizes for intellectual history the late Isaiah Berlin is--or ought to be--as highly regarded outside intellectual circles as he is inside. The now classic Four Essays on Liberty alone might have ensured his seat in the republic of letters; the sum of his works guarantee it. The Power of Ideas is a collection of shorter, easily accessible essays selected and edited by Henry Hardy, (one of Berlin's literary trustees) and intended for newcomers.
The social and political power of ideas is the general theme connecting such seemingly diverse topics as the Enlightenment, German Romanticism, historical necessity, value pluralism, Zionism and the Russian Intelligentsia (to name but a few). Berlin's wonderfully clear prose makes him an intellectual historian for lay folk and professionals alike; an historian whose greatest strength lies in his ability to bring ideas and people to life. Giambattista Vico, Alexander Herzen and Vissarion Berlinsky are, once met, never forgotten figures.
Woody Allen once said that if writers were food, then Tolstoy is a full meal with a vitamin pill and extra wheatgerm. Think of the bite-size essays in The Power of Ideas as a tantalising starter. Try The Roots of Romanticism, Against the Current, or the recently republished Three Critics of the Enlightenment for the main course. Those familiar with Berlin's work will find much to enjoy though little that is new in a book ideally suited to newcomers. --Larry BrownReview:
"Berlin's views on such disparate topics as Marxism, romanticism, liberty and Zionism are all covered in this excellent collection of his essays. . . . Ideas aren't what they used to be, but there is no one better able than Berlin to relate their glorious and not so glorious history. Each of the essays fulfils Raymond Carver's criterion for the short story: to leave the reader's body temperature a degree higher or lower than when the book was opened."--Nicholas Fearn, The Independent (London)
"A volume which covers the key areas of Berlin's interests in an unusually accessible way; it will take its place as, quite simply, the best short introduction to his thinking. . . . [A]ll the arguments most closely associated with Berlin--above all, about freedom and human values--can be found here."--Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph (London)
"The collection is thoroughly eclectic and engaging to read. You never know what the next morsel will taste of and, like a delectable plate of appetisers, the variety whets the appetite."--Judith Armstrong, Australian's Review of Books
"If he did nothing else, Berlin put the ideas back into history. . . . This posthumous collection, containing some of his best work, show how seriously he took the task of inspiring the general reader."--Daniel Johnson, The Daily Telegraph
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