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The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History
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The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  514 ratings  ·  51 reviews
The masterly essay on Tolstoy's view of history, in which Sir Isaiah underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system.
Paperback, 96 pages
Published January 1st 1993 by Ivan R. Dee Publisher (first published 1953)
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Hadrian
"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." These are the lines from the Greek poet Archilochus, and a little winding theme from which Berlin draws forth grand thoughts on literature and the philosophy of history.

Berlin is upfront in his definition of his 'intellectual game'. He proposes that a 'hedgehog' is a thinker who relates everything to a central system, and a 'fox' is a thinker who draws upon various subjects and is aware that they do not all fit in one single mol
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Kelly
I cannot tell you how delighted I am that I did not discover this book until just this month. I'll give you an overview of this wonderful essay and then explain my personal satisfaction to those who care to stick around afterwards.

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

This is the translation of the fragment of verse of Greek poet Archilochus that this essay is based on. In short, Isaiah Berlin's argument is that there are two kinds of thinkers: foxes and hedgehogs.
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Ted
This was the first book I read by Isaiah Berlin, and thus came to learn that he was one of the great scholars of the 20th century. After reading it I dragged out my old Modern Library copy of War and Peace (which I have never read) and discovered that following Part One of the book (the novel itself, all 1100 pages of it) comes Part Two, Tolstoy's essay on his view of history (about 35 pages). (So I've read the last 35 pages of War and Peace!)

A few years later I read The Crooked Timber of Humani
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Cheryl
"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This argument is from the Greek poet Archilochus and suggest the differences which divide humans. Do you relate everything to one coherent system, or are you persuaded by many contradictory ideas, related by no moral or fundamental assumption. The first describes the intellectual personality of the hedgehogs, and the second to the artistic leanings of the fox. Berlin, in his most accessible essay, makes observations as a gateway ...more
Jim
This is a deeply profound book, which, presumably about Tolstoy's philosophy of history in War and Peace, is actually about the nature of observable reality. In a mere 81 pages, Isaiah Berlin has gone far toward upsetting my apple cart -- for good and all. We all make assumptions about which we are comfortable, and these assumptions impact on our religious practices, political and social behavior, and in fact the whole nexus of our interrelationships with others:
Tolstoy himself, too, knows that
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James
The title of Berlin's short study of Tolstoy's philosophy of history comes from a well known fragment of Archilocus. The fox knows many things while the hedgehog knows one big thing. This archetypal distinction, between hedgehogs and foxes, is generally applied to two different ontological temperaments. Foxes are individuals who accept plurality, a multiplicity of events and objects without feeling a need to unify the scattered fragments; hedgehogs, on the other hand, are moved by a singular vis ...more
Caroline
This, then, is the great illusion which Tolstoy sets himself to expose: that individuals can, by the use of their own resources, understand and control the course of events…

Tolstoy was not by nature a visionary; he saw the manifold objects and situations on earth in their full multiplicity…his genius lay in the perception of specific properties, the almost inexpressible individual quality in virtue of which the given object is uniquely different from all others. Nevertheless he longed for a univ
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Ida Wry
May 07, 2007 Ida Wry rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who like Russian novels
You have to read at least the first few pages. Then you will think about hedgehogs and foxes for the rest of your life.
Aasem Bakhshi
If you don't believe that a hundred page essay bordering on literary criticism, history and philosophy can prove to be an unputdownable jaw-dropper, you have to read this essay by Berlin who knew literature and specifically Russian literature like the back of his hand. Even if you are familiar with historical determinism in Tolstoy's War and Peace, you would be forced to revisit the complete tome once again and it is certainly worthwhile.

And this is the least. It may happen that this little essa
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David Ranney
This, for both Schopenhauer and Tolstoy, is the central tragedy of human life; if only men would learn how little the cleverest and most gifted among them can control, how little they can know of the multitude of factors the orderly movement of which is the history of the world; above all, what presumptuous nonsense it is to claim to perceive an order merely on the strength of believing desperately that an order must exist, when all one actually perceives is meaningless chaos -- a chaos of whic
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Andrew
A deeply profound book presumably about Tolstoy's philosophy of history in War and Peace and the author's perception of observable reality.

The antique truth, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing," first put forward by Greek poet Archilochus, is a concept that Leo struggles with as he lapses between plot and philosophical discussion in W and P (the applications of this concept far exceed his masterpiece).

Berlin argues that economists were early adapters of the hedgefo
...more
Mike
It's a summary of Tolstoy's philosophy of history. Prose-wise, it's a sheer delight to read. But while well-written and incredibly erudite, I don't think that Berlin teaches the reader anything that couldn't be gleaned simply from reading War & Peace. Of course, this is about 1450 pages shorter than Tolstoy...
Yasmina Elhayane
I'm going to think about hedgehogs and foxes for the rest of my life.
Read this book!
Will
OK, so a publication which is ostensibly an 80 page examination of a Russian author's ruminations on the workings of history might not send most people leaping from their seats and scurrying to the bookshop but this book - like all great works - is is far more profound and widely applicable than its subtitle might suggest.

Berlin - a fantastically readable essayist - summarises the historical themes of War & Peace before embarking on an erudite discussion about the existence (or lack thereof)
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Rick
Aug 26, 2013 Rick rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: essays
The Russian born, British philosopher and critic, wrote this famous book-length essay about Tolstoy’s philosophy of history (as presented and explained in War and Peace) in 1953. Not quite 80 pages in length, it is a masterful analysis of Tolstoy’s ideas, commencing by using a fragment from Archilochus, an ancient Greek poet, who observed “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” He applies this observation to artistic approaches and briefly plays the game of placing wri ...more
علی
این اصطلاحی ست از فیلسوف لیبرال آیزایا برلین. او خود گفته که منظورش این همه جدی نبوده، می خواسته یک تفریح روشنفکرانه کرده باشد. داستان اصلی به جمله ای از آرشیلوکوس شاعر یونانی باز می گردد؛ "روباه خیلی چیزها می داند اما جوجه تیغی تنها یک چیز بزرگ می داند"! آیزایا برلین این گفته را روی متفکران تعمیم داده که دو گروه اند؛ آنها که جهان را از درون یک ایده ی مشخص و مطلق می بینند (نظیر افلاطون، لوکرتیوس، دانته، پاسگال، هگل، داستایوسکی، نیچه، ایبسن و پروست)، و آنها که همچون روباه، اعتقاد ندارند که جهان ر ...more
Lotz
I still remember the day when I finished War and Peace . It was both one of the most triumphant and most perplexing days of my reading life. Imagine me, on a hot summer day, having woken up early to devote the necessary hours to plow through the remaining hundred pages or so of this novel that had so completely dominated the previous month of my life. As I saw the finish-line approaching, my heart began to beat faster and faster—my mouth watered at the prospect of completing this iconic tomb: a ...more
Erin
Actually, this is a blog based on the book. I worked for the publisher a few months ago and came up with this:

Defending the Fox

Over the summer I did a brief stint in retail. I worked at Lululemon, a high-end yoga-inspired clothing company. Lululemon is different than most retail companies in many ways, but the most outstanding difference is in the company’s employee training. They give each new employee a series of motivational CDs and a brand new copy of Jim Collins’ bestselling business book,
...more
Dan
"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Berlin makes this ancient assertion mean something about fundamental intellectual differences between people. The hedgehog people relate "everything," which I take to mean the world of experience and idea, to a "single central vision, one system." Berlin’s “everything” allows a good deal of latitude in how your apply the distinction, and I thought of ideologues with their political systems based on bumper-sticker ideas. Foxes, I ...more
Jeff Rollins
Jul 11, 2012 Jeff Rollins rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jeff by: Ian Nappier
Just some initial thoughts. I'm no English major, so this will probably be incoherent.

This book was fascinating, even given the fact that I have not read War and Peace, although I have read Anna Karenina. Obviously, dividing all people into one of two camps is imprecise at best, but for the purpose of explaining Leo Tolstoy's work, it provides an interesting context in which to analyze Tolstoy's writing.

Briefly, Berlin divides people into either hedgehogs or foxes. Hedgehogs, Berlin states, see
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Peter
Berlin is a political philosopher who concentrates on the history of ideas. I've been meaning to read his works for a while (part of that long list of books to read before I expire, which I don't plan to do anytime soon!) but have not. This work, really a long essay, examines Tolstoy's View on History (hence the subtitle) in which he appears to move against the determinist view of the Marxists and moves to appreciate the smaller, personal, transcendent forces behind historical movements. He reje ...more
Loren
The celebrated lifelikeness of every object and every person in [Tolstoy's:] world derives from this astonishing capacity of presenting every ingredient of it in its fullest individual senses in all its many dimensions, as it were; never as a mere datum, however vivid, within some stream of consciousness; with blurred edges, an outline, a shadow, an impressionistic representation, nor yet calling for, and dependent on, some process of reasoning in the mind of the reader; but always as a solid ob ...more
Robert
The Hedgehog/Fox distinction seems to have made a resurgence in popular discourse lately, after Nate Silver mentioned it in his bestselling Signal and the Noise. It's an infectious, playful idea. In Berlin's essay expounding upon the remark by Archilochus, he introduces the hedgehog and fox as a loose classification to explore Tolstoy's philosophy. He characterizes Tolstoy as a "fox desperately wanting to be a hedgehog." The essay is likely to be much less engaging to readers unfamiliar with Tol ...more
Alma
This book is a must for any history major! Berlin is a one of the greatest political philosophy writers of our time. In the book, Berlin expands upon this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (examples given include Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, and Proust) and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single ...more
Chris Perry
Reall great discussion of Tolstoy and history using the hedgehog and fox parable as a lens.
Sean Chick
Looking back on it I should not have read this book. I despise Tolstoy, so his vision of history pisses me off more than it inspires me.
Tom
Berlin's essay is one of those things I feel I should've read 30 years ago, and only now am I playing catch-up with everybody else. It's not just Berlin's dichotomizing personalities into totalizing and pluralistic tendencies--as Berlin himself notes, people can be categorized according to any number of dichotomies--but his lucid explanations of concepts coupled with choice and compelling examples, interpreted with clear, warm logic, and a deeply humane sensitivity that make Berlin such an appro ...more
Pallavi Kempaiah
Brilliantly written essays
Miriam
Jan 29, 2010 Miriam added it
Interesting exploration of Tolstoy's theory of history. It certainly illuminates War and Peace and made me want to go back and read it and reread Anna Karenina. On the other hand, I found it frustrating that Berlin didn't counter Tolstoy's objections to the "empirical study of history" (his description of sociology, not mine) with references to Weber and Durkheim, two thinkers who were far more important to that discipline than Comte, who was cited frequently.
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45752
Sir Isaiah Berlin was a philosopher and historian of ideas, regarded as one of the leading liberal thinkers of the twentieth century. He excelled as an essayist, lecturer and conversationalist; and as a brilliant speaker who delivered, rapidly and spontaneously, richly allusive and coherently structured material, whether for a lecture series at Oxford University or as a broadcaster on the BBC Thir ...more
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