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The Proper Study of Mankind

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  272 ratings  ·  22 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
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
Marc L
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
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
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
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.
"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.
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
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
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.

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
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.
Jan 04, 2008 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.
Great essays. Especially Berlin's great interpretation of Machiavelli's "Prince."
Isaiah Berlin is one of my favorite authors, ever, read everything
Apr 17, 2007 Roshanak is currently reading it
I just recieved this great book as a gift and have started to read it
Ted Milne
One of those rare books from which one gains wisdom.
A sweete, witty soule.
Jim Leckband
Ich bin ein Berliner.
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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
More about Isaiah Berlin...
The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History The Roots of Romanticism Russian Thinkers Karl Marx: His Life and Environment Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty

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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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