THE SENSE OF REALITY by Isaiah Berlin

THE SENSE OF REALITY

Studies in Ideas and Their History
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KIRKUS REVIEW

More of a motley in scope than previous selections of his essays (The Crooked Timber of Humanity, 1991, etc.), this collection nonetheless displays Berlin's superb erudition and always stimulating insights. Berlin's career has spanned the century: He witnessed the 1917 revolution in Petrograd, has had diplomatic postings in Washington and Moscow, and has headed Oxford's Wolfson College, the British Academy, and the Royal Opera. His activities have generated a variety of occasional work--lectures, conference papers, radio programs, etc.--from which this collection has been assembled. All of the pieces are distinguished by his informed fascination with the history of ideas. He returns to one of his favorite topics, the impact of Marxism on Russian thinkers. Tolstoy, Turgenev, and the earlier critic Belinsky are considered together in "Artistic Commitment: A Russian Legacy," an exploration of the aesthetic-utilitarian debate in Russian history. "Marxism and the International in the Nineteenth Century," a lecture given on the First International's centenary, is not only an excellent blow-by-blow account of Marx's dealings with the organization, but a superlative gloss on Marxism as action and theory. The collection's wildest card, an essay on the Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, manages to be both an excellent summary of Berlin's ideas on nationalism--its attractions and its discontents--and an appreciation of the underrated pragmatism of the mystic poet. Elsewhere, Berlin dilates magisterially on the links between nationalism and Romanticism and the nuances of political judgment. The two stand-outs, however, are markedly different: In almost Jamesian prose, "The Sense of Reality" and "Philosophy and Government Oppression" come as close to a personal philosophy of history and intellectual freedom as anything Berlin has written. Penetrating work from the old fox of liberalism, as brilliant in rethinking the past as in recreating its thought.
Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-374-26092-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997




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