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The Proper Study of Mankind

4.27  ·  Rating Details ·  445 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Isaiah Berlin was one of the leading thinkers of our time and one of its finest writers. The Proper Study of Mankind brings together his most celebrated writing: here the reader will find Berlin's famous essay on Tolstoy, "The Hedgehog and the Fox"; his penetrating portraits of contemporaries from Pasternak and Akhmatova to Churchill and Roosevelt; his essays on liberty an ...more
Paperback, 637 pages
Published August 2nd 2000 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1997)
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Nov 16, 2012 Szplug marked it as intermittently-reading
Berlin is an intellectual stud—wise, thoughtful, cautious and, ultimately, uplifting. The opening essay is a sterling introduction to the tenor of the displaced Riganite: a firm declaration against the tempting lure of dogma and ideology, against the piebald dream of utopian perfection achievable by rational and scientific methods served by a priesthood of lever-pulling technicians; an illusory end that so often is sought through sanguinary means. The first batch of essays serve to build a base ...more
Aug 14, 2015 Hadrian marked it as read-parts-of
Berlin is one of the most perceptive and deeply learned of the 'Cold War classical liberals'. Even in his discussion of obscurer thinkers like Hamann, Herder, and Herzen, he is still new and continually relevant, especially in his discussions of democracy and political pluralism.

My personal recommendations from this collection include 'Two Concepts of Liberty', 'The Hedgehog and the Fox', 'The Originality of Machiavelli' (if you don't believe my account of his staggering knowledge base, look at
Aaron Crofut
It would be difficult to overestimate this book's influence on my own political thought. My journey towards the likes of Hayek, Rothbard, and von Mises began at Berlin's "Two Concepts of Liberty" and any belief I may have had in the use of the state to perfect people died when I learned a simple truth: the "good" is not unitary. If a decision has to be made between competing goods, that is a decision best left in the hands of the individual most of the time.

Also some wonderful insights into Mac
Mar 30, 2014 Andrew added it
Shelves: essays
Sometimes I think of big thick books about history and philosophy as intellectual arm wrestling matches-- I'm throwing my weight against ideas, trying to figure out the author's strategy. When I read Isaiah Berlin, I'm playing ping-pong with a genius, and I'm being outfoxed.

Big ideas, big thinkers, many of whom no one reads anymore (Herder, Hamann)... all told in an eloquent and precise book, and all the more appropriate reading for an era when totalitarianism comes in the form of markets and el
Mar 22, 2015 Marc rated it liked it
I didn't know Isaiah Berlin at all until the mid' 1990's, when I took a subscription on the New York Review of Books. Berlin regularly published articles in it. I was immediately very impressed by his wise, personal and very authoritative way of thinking and looking at the world. Up until now I never read a larger work by his hand, so this anthology makes up for this neglect.
What strikes is that Berlin wasn't a systembuilder, he didn't develop a huge system of thinking nor introduced a new way o
Jan 25, 2012 Greg rated it really liked it
Categorizing this book onto a shelf in Goodreads is difficult. It is so rich and varied in content. It is a collection of essays by Isaiah Berlin covering a tremendous range of topics. Each essay is essentially a dissertation for an MPhil in itself. The one on Machiavelli is incredible in its breadth of scope. The amount of reading Berlin had to do in order to summarize the scholarly literature is incredible. The essay on two forms of liberty (negative, i.e., Locke/Bentham/et al., and positive, ...more
Howard Cincotta
Jan 25, 2009 Howard Cincotta rated it really liked it
Arguably the most important political and literary philosopher/critic of the 20th century. His essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox" (about Tolstoy) is worth the price of admission. Like George Steiner, Berlin will throw dozens of references at you -- Kant, Wittgenstein, Hume, and a dozen others in a single paragraph -- as he builds an unassilable case for human liberty in an era of totalitarianism, and traces the origins of both through the European Enlightment and German Romanticism, among other in ...more
Jul 15, 2016 Frederick rated it really liked it
This fascinating anthology of essays illuminates the mind of one of the most celebrated offspring of The Enlightenment, the 20th century's Isaiah Berlin. There is a great deal of information in here on the last 400 years of Western thought and a careful consideration of some of the great minds of his time. Recommended for careful, slow reading.
Andrew James
Oct 27, 2010 Andrew James is currently reading it
He writes as he spoke as he thought: in perfectly constructed long complex sentences with parentheses, subordinate clauses and footnotes; it is, therefore, a slow read but very rewarding. I think his ideas on what is freedom are of vital and current importance in the world of social and political unrest that is evolving.
Mar 16, 2010 Chris rated it liked it
"The Concept of Scientific History"--Berlin brilliantly attacks the idea that history is among the social sciences. Braudel nods.

"The Originality of Machiavelli"--great piece.

"The Counter-Enlightenment"--will read soon.
Alex Lee
Feb 06, 2016 Alex Lee rated it really liked it
There is much to admire in Isaiah Berlin. He deals with thick concepts but he is easy to read. He is clear. He also analyzes phenomenon from a variety of angles, being pretty well informed and widely read. He is also a proponent of the end of modernism, understanding the reason and concept originate with latent content, and that often the narrative structure is inappropriate to contexts outside of the originating situation. He shows us this often.

But there is an intellectual limit to his examina
Sense History
This is a very rich book, it offers a great insight into the writing and understanding of history. It's impossible to cover all angles Berlin deals with, but the main one is his relentless attempts to show that tackling history with great theories and purely scientific methods ignores reality. One of the explanations is that the very act of writing history, compiling a story is not a perfectly logical activity; in reality, practical and intuitive insights play a much larger role than (academic) ...more
Michailidis Michael
Sep 13, 2016 Michailidis Michael rated it really liked it
The essential Berlin. It contains some of his most famous essays like his "Two Concepts of Liberty" along with "The Originality of Machiavelli" which is my personal favourite. For anyone interested in the history of ideas, Berlin is a must read.
Jul 13, 2015 Juan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Las cuatro estrellas se las otorgo por lo realmente valioso de su discurso sobre los conceptos de libertad positiva y libertad negativa que tan útiles han resultado para toda la Teoría Política originada tras él; la quinta estrella se la quito porque el resto del contenido del recopilatorio es demasiado específico como para ser de interés para el público generalista (son críticas pseudo-epistolares a otros autores y políticos) y porque el estilo es denso y bastante insufrible hasta el punto de q ...more
Mar 19, 2015 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, essays
I confess that I read only perhaps a quarter of the book, "The Counter-Enlightenment," "Herder and the Enlightenment," "The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will," and "Nationalism: Past Neglect and Present Power." These are stimulating essays that all explore European reactions to the Enlightenment and the rise of Romanticism and its attendant varieties of irrationalism, including the darker forms of the cult of the Will and destructive nationalism.
John Gillis
Jun 27, 2013 John Gillis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title is from Alexander Pope, and the book is a compilation of Isaiah Berlin's essays. He is the best writing philosopher since Bertrand Russell; his ideas are exquisitely depicted; and his intelligence is beyond the pale. His biography "Isaiah Berlin" by Michael Ignatieff is worth reading too.
John Doe
Nov 23, 2013 John Doe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Reality is like a jig-saw puzzle, but some of the pieces are missing and some other puzzles are mixed in. We don't have the picture on the box to look at either. Mostly we just find some pieces that go together and we call that progress.

Jul 21, 2016 Megan marked it as to-read
I think I bought this with my dad when he visited the time before he built my comic book shelves. I haven't read it yet because it looks long.
Jan 11, 2008 Mitch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Isaiah Berlin taught me to take differences between people very seriously, rid me of doctrinaire Marxism, taught me that all good things don't necessarily go together and much more.
Ivan Mulcahy
Mar 11, 2013 Ivan Mulcahy rated it really liked it
We don't seem to get public intellectuals of this refinement of thought in 2013. His famous essay about the Fox and the Hedgehog is in here.
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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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“The notion of the perfect whole, the ultimate solution in which all good things coexist, seems to me not merely unobtainable--that is a truism--but conceptually incoherent. ......Some among the great goods cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss.” 10 likes
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