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Enlightening: Letters 1946 - 1960 Paperback – 7 Apr 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico (7 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844138348
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844138340
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 4.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 972,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Readers of Berlin's letters will find the same bubbling flow of malice, wit and human insight on the written page" (The Economist)

"A dazzling display of intellectual pyrotechnics" (Vernon Bogdanor New Statesman)

"As well as being sometimes profoundly wise, these letters are often laugh-out-loud funny" (Brian Lunch Irish Times)

"They delight in flashing the stiletto, these donnish types, and impossible to conceive would be a college in which no academic grown had a dagger sticking out of the back. It is precisely this kind of malice which constitutes a naughty proportion of the book's appeal" (Guardian)

"Ironic, gossipy, witty, intermittently profound and always intensely human" (Justin Cartwright Sunday Telegraph, Books of the Year)

Book Description

The second volume of Isaiah Berlin's revelatory letters, spanning 1946-1960

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the second book of his letters and Henry Hardy as the main editor of all Berlin's works has done a masterly job. This is essential because Berlin was particularly gregarious and therefore keeping track of all his correspondents is a difficult task. His assessment of people is often both quick and quick witted, so that he can dismiss people as well as take them up as friends for life. The period covered is that of the second world war and so as a Latvian Jew who also knew the history of ideas, including that of anti-semitism in Europe, this period is one of heartbreak and trauma. However, the sheer personality of someone who was often known as one of the greatest talkers shines through in these letters. Enjoy.
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It is amazing the number and range of contacts Berlin had and how his opinions of an every larger number of people were so direct, somewhat ruthless, but fascination, none-the-less.
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All fine.
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I would doubtless enjoy reviewing this book had Amazon actually sent it to me. I ordered it some weeks ago and believe I have already actually paid for it, but as yet it has not arrived. Perhaps you should synchronise the work of your various departments. As a matter of fact this is one of two books that I have long been waiting to receive and whenever I try and write to the company about this I receive one of its infuriatingly upbeat promises that it will arrive soon etc. etc.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A connoisseur of personalities 19 Aug. 2009
By John F. Leamons - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes have done a fine job putting together this second volume of Isaiah Berlin's letters, covering the period 1946 to 1960. Apparently, they have published 20-25 percent of the material from this period. That must be about right, because (a) at about 850 pages the volume makes for a pleasant weekend's reading and (b) the weaker letters, of which there are not many, are only just worth including. The editorial material is informative, yet suitably sparse and unobtrusive. There are very few typos in this fat book.

Berlin belongs, with Plato, Leibniz and Hume, to that select group of philosophers one wouldn't mind meeting, were it possible to resurrect them. Of course, Berlin, unlike the other three, was by no means a great philosopher, if indeed he can be called a philosopher at all. What he was, without doubt, was a supremely gifted gossip, able, as Heine was, to gossip well about philosophers, both the living and the dead. He was interested in people and in how ideas made them better, or worse, than they otherwise might have been. He was in fact a connoisseur of personalities and could size one up almost at a glance. Meeting Nixon at a party in 1958, Berlin required no time at all to see what others needed decades to figure out, namely, that Nixon was "a most shifty, vulgar, dishonest and repellent human being." Because Berlin was not a proper philosopher himself, he wasn't much good at assessing the merits of philosophers as philosophers, as opposed to assessing the influence of their ideas on personalities. For example, he judged (at various times) that J.L. Austin was the cleverest man he had ever known (or the second cleverest, after Keynes). But Berlin knew Popper and Russell, and it is pretty easy to see that, in order of increasing cleverness, the correct sequence is Austin, Keynes, Popper and, enjoying a commanding lead, Russell.

These are entertaining letters. They reveal a great deal about the people Berlin knew, if one allows for Berlin's biases. And they reveal even more about Berlin himself, a very odd bird. His interests were confined almost exclusively to personalities. He appears to have been largely blind to the aesthetic qualities of the natural world and, for a clever man alive in a great age of natural science, astonishingly incurious about physical theory. As these letters show, Berlin was very close to his father, whom he claims to have regarded as a younger brother, and deeply attached to that truly outsized personality, Maurice Bowra. What they also show is that, in one respect at least, Berlin was miles beyond most philosophers: his appreciation for the great variety of human personalities enabled him to see that any attempt to press people into a "rational" society is bound to result in a great deal of breakage.

With luck we'll have the next volume of letters in two or three years.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More fascinating Isaiah Berlin letters 16 July 2009
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is the successor volume to the superb collection covering Berlin letters from 1928-1946.The editors, Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes, inform us that because of the heavier volume of letters IB wrote during the postwar period until his death in 1997, they are now projecting at least two more volumes to follow. The same extraordinary editorial dilgence manifested in the prior volume is demonstrated once again. Every letter is annotated with notes (placed fortunately at the base of the page) identifying individuals, publications, and activities referenced in the letter so that the reader knows exactly the context within which IB was writing. This volume is different in that the editors have not printed many letters due to the increased volume of correspondence. These letters tend to be longer than in the previous volume due to IB's discovery of the dictating machine. Some of them go on for 6 or more pages; but the letters now reflect much more how IB spoke (such as in the Jahanbegloo interviews), as well as some of his customary disorgnization when lecturing. IB's enormous range of interests is well represented: everything from weighty opinions on political theorists to music, Israel, Russian intellectual history and juicy Oxford gossip. His wide range of acquaintances also is evident: H.L.A. Hart, Felix Frankfurter, Ben Cohen, Katherine Graham of the Washington Post, Maurice Bowra, E.H. Carr, Joseph Alsop, and Irving Kristol to name just a few. We also learn why IB published relatively little during his lifetime: for him to sit down and write was virtually an ordeal, intensified by his perpetual disorganization and practice of overcommitment to engagements. His lectures, according to him, were often disasters, an opinion not frequently shared by his audience, although his inability to maintain eye contact with anyone other that the back wall of the lecture hall must have been difficult to accept.

The book is organized chronologically with sections keyed to where IB was during a particular period (Oxford [New College and All Souls]; visits to Harvard, Chicago and New York), or significant events in his life such as his marriage, designation as Chichele Professor, and knighthood. Much of his substantive intellectual history interests are reflected in the letters, which adds context to his published work on these topics. When he is critical of someone, he lays out his reasons (e.g., Isaac Deutscher, G.D.H. Cole, Rowse, Mortimer Adler, Hannah Arendt, and Dean Acheson). He also explains why he likes certain folks such as Edmund Wilson, B. Berenson, and Trevor-Roper. These letters were not meant for publication so they are extremely candid and open; historians of the future will decry the introduction of email and the telephone which will probably largely extinguish the existence of correspondence as a research source.

While extremely lengthy (700 or so pages), and sometimes a bit repetitive, the letters have an unique ability to place the reader into the context during which IB was writing. We learn also some of IB's feet of clay: his proclivity for affairs with married women (Jenifer Hart and his wife being the prime examples), that he sometimes lied in his letters, and that he was somewhat insecure as surprising as that may appear. The letters are supported by four interesting appendices; 42 photographic plates and other illustrations; a biographical glossary of the leading individuals who appear in the letters; an index to the sources of the correspondence and a 37 page index. Also of extreme value is a 17-page chronology of Berlin's activities between 1946 and 1960. The editors have scored two out of two bull's eyes with the first two volumes; the prospect of at least two more tasty morsils is enticing.
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