This is one of these intellectual & spiritual odysseys of the mind that, after you've digested them, remain embedded in the protoplasm of your mental being. All the Russian 19th century greats (except Pushkin and Dostoevsky ) are here: Herzen, Belinsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Bakunin. In a book so saturated with ideas, it is not easy to make a pick- my favorite ones are:
-the hedgehog and the fox metaphor ("The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing"). Human beings are categorized as either "hedgehogs" (whose lives are embodiment of a single, central vision of reality according to which they "feel", breathe, experience and think- "system addicts", in short. Examples include Plato, Dante, Proust and Nietzsche.) or "foxes" ( who live rather centrifugal than centripetal lives, pursue many divergent ends and, generally, possess a sense of reality that prevents them from formulating a definite grand system of "everything"-simply because they "know" that life is too complex to be squeezed into any Procrustean unitary scheme. Montaigne, Balzac, Goethe and Shakespeare are, in various degrees, foxes.)
-precarious position of liberalism-something Berlin was well aware of. A "non-belief belief", liberalism certainly doesn't satisfy "deeper" human needs; also, it managed, following its very nature, to stay away from planned genocides & siren songs of totalitarian power. Yet- Berlin has failed (maybe due to the "history of ideas" nature of this compilation of essays) to answer more fundamental questions plaguing liberal mindset: is it fit to grapple with the 20th/21st century burning issues ? Or- has it mutated into a dark parody of itself, making a pact with postmodern imperial power(s) as represented by X-Filesque military & financial "Free World" greedy elites which batten on the unenviable position of the much of the globe (Latin America, Africa, East Europe & the greater part of Asia) ?
-on strong side, essays on Herzen (Berlin's hero), Turgenev ("Fathers and Children" controversy) and Bakunin (juxtaposed to Herzen) are fresh, universal & not dated at all. Tolstoy is covered unsurpassably, and I doubt it can be done better. On the other hand, some essays, like those on Russia and 1848 revolutions, German Romanticism and Russian populism, although brilliantly weaven, are, in my opinion, more of historical interest than pertinent to our contemporary metastable anxiety condition.
Be as it may: this is an exquisite intellectual tapestry. Buy it.