THE CROOKED TIMBER OF HUMANITY by Henry Hardy
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THE CROOKED TIMBER OF HUMANITY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A fifth volume of collected essays by Oxford philosopher and historian Berlin (Personal Impressions, 1980; Concepts and Categories, 1979) that demonstrates once again why he is probably the best historian of ideas in the world today. The pieces, written between 1960 and 1986, and appearing originally in sources ranging from The New York Review of Books to the British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, deal with such issues as nationalism, European unity, fascism, relativism, and cultural history. But Berlin's central preoccupation is with what he calls "the great ideological storms that have altered the lives of virtually all mankind." In one of the most illuminating essays here, "European Unity and its Vicissitudes," he shows how during the past several decades, political ideas conceived by thinkers little regarded in their time have had a more violently revolutionary influence on human lives than at any time since the 17th century (those of Joseph de Maistre, for instance, whom Berlin, in the longest essay in the book, sees as a precursor of fascism); and how it has come about that, in the pursuit of utopian ideals, millions have been killed without pity (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot). In "The Pursuit of the Ideal," Berlin demonstrates how recent the notion of tolerance has been, gradually arising only during the 19th century; throughout most of recorded history, he explains, it was assumed that only a single body of truth existed, with deviance from it almost incomprehensible. But the results of our era's greater tolerance have not been unmixed, he says, and in "The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will," he considers some of the problems posed by the passionate intensity of our times. Despite some inevitable overlap among the essays, Sir Isaiah proves a superb historical guide--humane, tolerant, elegant, and with dazzling insight into the dilemmas of our time.
Pub Date: March 24th, 1991
ISBN: 0691058385
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1991




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