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Russian Thinkers (Penguin Philosophy) [Paperback]

Isaiah Berlin , Aileen Kelly
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Russian Thinkers (Penguin Classics) Russian Thinkers (Penguin Classics) 4.3 out of 5 stars (3)
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Book Description

28 July 1994 Penguin Philosophy
A book on the Russain Intelligensia that illuminates both the Russian mind and the role of their ideas in history.

Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New edition edition (28 July 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140136258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140136258
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.8 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,261,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


The enduring vitality of Berlin's characterisation of Russian thought is demonstrated by the publication [...] of a new edition of Russian Thinkers, painstakingly revised and augmented by Henry Hardy ... a series of sparkling and sympathetic essays (Times Literary Supplement) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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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THE year 1848 is not usually considered to be a landmark in Russian history. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 30 Dec 2010
This collection of essay and lectures was a revelation. Absolutely brilliant. I am inspired to read more Turgenev, Herzen and Belinsky. I identified with all three writers, who, while they respected the goals of socialism found themselves wavering in terms of achieving this through violent insurrection. Herzen particularly was very interesting as he didn't see socialism as an end in itself - the goal for him was to live well and creatively, which is what he saw socialism as engendering. It is a paradox that by making everyone equal then people are happier, generally, and therefore uniqueness and individuality can be fostered as people don't have to struggle as much. I agree to an extent - however sometimes struggle can bring about uniqueness and positive outcomes, so I don't think there is one norm. Herzen also had a hatred of abstractions and generalisations which again I identified with. Berlin's analysis is very readable it kept me hooked all the way through. The book did take a while longer to read but I was reading it carefully as a work of non-fiction rather than as a novel so this was to be expected. Belinsky also piqued my interest - he can be seen as the father of modern criticism. He wasn't able to separate a writer from the writer's life. Obviously a laudable aim when you frame this as part of Belinsky's overpowering search for honesty and truth. However when you look at this in a modern context we now see every writer and personality has a persona either real or imagined that cannot be separated from their work and is possibly more important than the creative activity they are known for. In this respect he has a lot to answer for - but I doubt he could have imagined the extremes his passionate honesty would have led to. There was so much food for thought in this book and it discusses issues that are of great interest at the moment. Fabulous.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monist and pluralist visions of reality. 31 Jan 2012
This book contains ten exponential essays on nineteenth-century Russian literature and thought.

Isaiah Berlin expounds the thoughts of Russian writers of importance like no other
intellectual has managed to do. He has explored the historical roots and consequences
of the Russian thinkers depicted.

Greatly recommended!

Dag Stomberg
St Andrews, Scotland
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Should be "Russian Liberal Thinkers" 21 May 2011
This book is made up of transcripts of lectures by Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was a liberal, having emigrated from the Soviet Union, and so understandably dislikes non-liberal authoritarian or radical ideas. These views tend to come through in the book a lot - when comparing liberal Herzen to anarchist Bakunin, almost the entire chapter is devoted to Herzen, and only the last few pages to Bakunin, who's views are written off as "adolescent" and "meaningless" - a horrific oversimplification. At times it feels as if Berlin has a big bone to pick with the thinkers responsible for the Soviet political and social extremes around when he was lecturing.

Therefore this book is useful for a liberal perspective on 19th Century Russian thought, but lacks breadth or depth on other strains of thought; most of which were much more influential than liberalism at the time. For a much wider and deeper array of knowledge, I'd recommend "A History of Russian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Marxism" by Walicki, a much better read!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting and focused 26 Mar 2000
By A Customer - Published on
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)
46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Liberal Predicament 15 Jun 2002
By Mir Harven - Published on
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.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Berlin at his best - the true fox 11 Nov 2004
By Shalom Freedman - Published on
This study of Russian thinkers is profound and moving. Isaiah Berlin was capable of writing about 'ideas' and their ' development' in a constantly fascinating way. His most well- known essay ' The Hedgehog and the Fox' is in this volume and it seems that Berlin himself was one of those who knew many things and wanted to know many things. His political ideas also took the shape of recognizing conflicting value systems as having validity even when those came from within a single person. Here he writes about the great Russian social and political thinkers Tolstoy, Herzen,Belinsky , Bakunin , Turgenev with characteristic insight, irony and sympathy.

This is a volume anyone interested in the history of ideas should not miss.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Useful Historic Resource 27 Oct 2002
By A Customer - Published on
This book provides an excellent introduction to the history of Russian thought. I supplemented it with the pertinent chapters of Billington's "The Icon and the Axe" to piece together a general outline of the evolution of Russian political philosophy. Maybe I didn't pay enough attention to Berlin's own philosophizing, but then that wasn't my objective. I found one of his general observations about Russian thought to be particularly useful, i.e. the tendency to follow an idea through to its fullest consequences, no matter how extreme or objectionable. The book nicely sets the stage for how Marxism was able to take hold, showing that it was in some ways an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, intellectual development. The problem is, now that the book has allowed me to cobble together a general framework of Russian thought, the only possible next step is to start directly reading Hegel and Marx! And who wouldn't try to put off a daunting task like that?
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's nobody quite like Isaiah Berlin 19 Nov 2008
By Alex F Stop - Published on
Like every single book of Berlin's I ever read, starting with The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History, I enjoyed this one immensely. There is nobody quite like Berlin. Yes, his sentences seem never to end, but there is so much insight and quiet passion packed into every one of them that he really makes the reader feel he or she understands how these isolated desperate and frustrated Russians thought and why.
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