Dubnov (History/Stanford Univ.) debuts with a biography of Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997), the world-renowned Jewish historian and philosopher.
The author provides insight into both Berlin and the English culture and society to which his family fled to escape anti-Semitic pogroms and revolution. Dubnov claims that the mature Berlin's ideas of freedom and “value pluralism” were rooted in his experiences defining and maintaining a Jewish identity during the 1920s and ’30s, while also assimilating into Oxford academic culture. Berlin's participation in the philosophical disputes of the day took place against the background of the British elite's appeasement of Hitler and Nazism and the Peel Commission's adoption of partition for Palestine. Such conflicts were foreshadowed in encounters with the anti-Semitic Christian “Englishness” of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and later with the views of retired imperial officials at All Souls College, Oxford. They were echoed during the time of Berlin's service in the United States during World War II, when it became increasingly obvious that Churchill's government was not going to support the establishment of Israel, and America's Zionists began to follow their own path. This was also the time when Berlin first made the acquaintance of Chaim Weizmann and became a Zionist, and the author compares what he calls Berlin's postwar “diaspora Zionism” with his becoming a political thinker of freedom.
An inspiring account of the relationship between the struggle to defend pragmatic liberalism and the dilemmas and conflicts of politics.