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Russian Thinkers

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4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  293 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Among the seven essays collected in Russian Thinkers is perhaps Isaiah Berlin's most famous work, "The Hedgehog and the Fox," which begins with an ancient Greek proverb ("The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing") before taking on Leo Tolstoy's philosophy of history, showing how Tolstoy "was by nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog." The oth ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published October 25th 1979 by Penguin Books (first published 1978)
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Cheryl
Russia in 1848 was a hybernating bear. The Decembrist uprising of 1825 only a fading memory, as the imperial government under Nicholas I had effectively extinguished the protests. In the vast expanse of the empire, there was no sign of independent thought or action.

Nevertheless 1848 would be a turning point with revolutions in Europe and "barricades" erected in Russia to prevent the spread of liberal ideals. This imposed isolation gave voice to the intelligentsia, a small group of literary men w
...more
sister bluestocking
Jan 25, 2008 sister bluestocking rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: serious readers of literature
Recommended to sister by: script of Tom Stoppard's "Coast of Utopia"
Tom Stoppard brought this classic back into vogue when he cited it as inspiration for his recent epic, "The Coast of Utopia."

Thrilling, incandescent writing. Even if you only read "The Hedgehog and the Fox," the most celebrated essay in this justly celebrated collection, Isaiah Berlin's dazzling book deserves a place in your library.

The subject of "Hedgehog" is Tolstoy's inability to forge a scientific theory of history, but Berlin ranges effortlessly across 19th century Russian history, liter
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Greg Brozeit
This collection includes what is arguably Berlin’s most famous essay, The Fox and the Hedgehog. The quotation from which the title is taken is usually attributed falsely, “There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’” I suspect that many of those who ascribe the quote to Berlin have ever read beyond that first line. But they would have missed Berlin brilliant intellect and unique writing style—maj ...more
Aasem Bakhshi
"Describe, don't explain". Though Wittgenstein perhaps wrote those words while discussing the epistemological value of science, one has to read Isaiah Berlin in order to see their true expository demonstration. This is no ordinary achievement. In more than one way, its an indispensable text; that is, its a marvel of literary criticism, a classical description of the inner-most structures of Russian thought, introduction to some of the brilliant minds and intellectual giants of 19th century Russi ...more
John
Without any doubt a superlative book by any measure. I can think of no better introduction to the origins of the Russian intelligensia - none, but then I've not yet read Mark Raeff's book. Nonetheless, in a series of justly praised essays, Berlin gives his account, necessarily hints outlines rather than presents a sustained, comprehensive account. [Sir Isaiah preferred to record his thoughts in essays and lectures rather than in sustained narratives - of which he wrote a few.]
What is most impre
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Ben Peters
If one reads only two books to understand Russian thought, Berlin's should be one of them. Berlin's essays line up Russian liberal intelligentsia for close, dazzling, and critical examination: Herzen, Bakunin, Belinsky, Turgenev, and most of all Tolstoy. His essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," which argues that Tolstoy "was by nature a fox but believed in being a hedgehog" (read for more) is so successful I hasten to point to "A Remarkable Decade" (1838-1848) which reviews the emergence of the Rus ...more
James
Russian Thinkers is a classic work on Russian literature and ideas. Included in this excellent collection of essays Isaiah Berlin has a fascinating essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox. In this essay Berlin uses the distinction found in a fragment of the poet Archilocus that argues that there are two types of thinkers: Hedgehogs, who know one big thing and foxes, who know many things. Berlin goes on to categorize the great thinkers of the ages into groups based on this distinction. Hedgehogs like Dan ...more
psm
a brilliant exposition of the 19th century russian intelligentsia, set out in lucid, intelligent prose (something of a rarity nowadays).

berlin is an excellent expositor of the genealogy of ideas, their reception, dissemination, and lines of transmission. this is an essential companion for anyone slogging their way through the great russian novelists.

the only blemish is the 1973 essay "turgenev and the liberal predicament" which offers a barmy analogy between the situation faced by turgenev (tsar
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Margaret
Jul 18, 2012 Margaret is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Do his insights really penetrate, or is it just the supremely self-assured prose? No, they do. Amazing essay on Tolstoy, even if a Tolstoy I barely recognize: "an incurable love of the concrete, the empirical, the verifiable, and an instinctive distrust of the abstract, the impalpable, the supernatural – in short an early tendency to a scientific and positivist approach, unfriendly to romanticism, abstract formulations, metaphysics. Always and in every situation he looked for 'hard' facts – for ...more
Eduardo
A wonderful collection of essays by a brilliant philosopher and thinker, it is a great introduction to some of the best Russian intellects, novelists, political thinkers, and poets of the 1840s-1880s: Belinsky, Herzen, Turgenev, Bakunin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and others. Berlin shares with us the unique place in time Russia was in before the 1917 revolution and the complex blend of art and politics of Russian thinkers. It is worth reading.
Elizabeth
My current standard for critical writing. Berlin is just masterly in his command of his subject, and he's able to convey that mastery to the reader. While for my own sake, I could wish he didn't use such complex syntax -- it can be a little too easy to get lost in his dense sentences -- I can easily understand why such complicated, nuanced concepts demand such writing. The essay on Tolstoy's historiography is fascinating, and has probably made me think more about my own attitudes and assumptions ...more
James
Like many people (I know because I had to wait through 8 holds at the Portland library), I decided to get this book after reading Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia. It is the perfect follow-up and it makes me want to read the plays again, now that I am slightly less ignorant. Although I did not read every essay, I now feel adequately prepared to enter the world of Bakunin, Herzen, Belinsky, and Turgenev. It will be difficult to read Bakunin and Herzen without hearing the voice of Berlin, telling me ...more
Edward
Author's Preface
Editorial Preface
Note on the Cover Photograph
Abbreviations and Conventions
Introduction: A Complex Vision, by Aileen Kelly


--Russia and 1848
--The Hedgehog and the Fox
--Herzen and Bakunin on Individual Liberty
--A Remarkable Decade (1. The Birth of the Russian Intelligentsia, 2. German Romanticism in Petersburg and Moscow, 3. Vissarion Belinsky, 4. Alexander Herzen)
--Russian Populism
--Tolstoy and Enlightenment
--Fathers and Children

Glossary of names, by Jason Ferrell
Concordance to the
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Ivan Mulcahy
In Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives the character played by Judy Davis, married to Sidney Pollock's character is electrifying wired and hyper-smart. Their sex life seems dire. She tries an affair with Liam Neeson. Then during sex she reflects that he's a hedgehog type, as defined by Isaiah Berlin in his essay in this book. Then crazy head that she owns, instead of trying to focus on the fucking, she thinks about every man she knows and tries to decide if they are either hedgehog type or fix type ...more
Geoffrey Rose
It's a great book in terms of understanding a.) 19th century Russian thought and intellectual culture and b.) Berlin's own views. Strangely, I found "The Hedgehog and the Fox" (an essay I've read several times before) one of the less enjoyable - perhaps less coherent in terms of argument - in this essay but overall, this was a delightful read and Berlin's insights are interesting and remarkable (he's made me want to pick up the Russians again). Highly recommended.
Nathan
austin pendleton told me to read this when i was working on the cherry orchard. i wasn't looking forward to it cause i figured it would be a big fat yawn, but damned if it wasn't wonderful. it's the kind of book you have to read with glasses on, so i got some fake glasses for my character and it made a lot of difference. that alone was worth it. i can't honestly say that i understood all of it, but the parts i did understand were great.
Pippa
I loved, loved, loved this book! Here I discovered Herzen and the populists of 19th century Russia, and went on to do a degree course to find out more. Beautiful... and much of the literature he quotes is no longer available, so that gives it a double value. A book to treasure.
Faith
I actually couldn't get through this book. I tried hard though. Really hard. It's very academic and a little over my head as far as the amount of philosophy and Russian history/literature. I plan to mail this book ot a philosophy major friend.
Iris
"These essays, by possible the most brilliant and engaging intellect of our time, illuminate dazzlingly both the Russian mind and the role of ideas in history." -Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Taha rabbani
من البته اين كتاب را تمام نكرده‌ام. ولي بعيد مي‌دانم به اين زودي‌ها بنشينم و تمامش كنم. بعضي از مقالاتش را خوانده‌ام. براي همين جزو خوانده‌ها مي‌زنمش
Aaron
May 24, 2007 Aaron rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in russian history
great writings on belinsky as a literary critic and a good section on the romanticism!
Renzo
Thanks to Tom Stoppard for making me read this book.
Bob
Those Russians, they can really think!
Anna P
Great intellectual history.
Akshay
Akshay marked it as to-read
Jan 26, 2015
Natalia
Natalia marked it as to-read
Jan 25, 2015
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Patricia marked it as to-read
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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 The Proper Study of Mankind Karl Marx: His Life and Environment Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty

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“Understanding men or ideas or movements, or the outlooks of individuals or groups, is not reducible to a sociological classification into types of behaviour with predictions based on scientific experiment and carefully tabulated statistics of observations.” 1 likes
“Louis XIV was a very proud and self-confident man. He had such and such mistresses, and such and such ministers, and he governed France badly. The heirs of Louis XIV were also weak men, and also governed France badly. They also had such and such favourites and such and such mistresses. Besides which, certain persons were at this time writing books. By the end of the eighteenth century there gathered in Paris two dozen or so persons who started saying that all men were free and equal. Because of this in the whole of France people began to slaughter and drown each other. These people killed the king and a good many others. At this time there was a man of genius in France – Napoleon. He conquered everyone everywhere, i.e. killed a great many people because he was a great genius; and, for some reason, he went off to kill Africans, and killed them so well, and was so clever and cunning, that, having arrived in France, he ordered everyone to obey him, which they did. Having made himself Emperor he again went to kill masses of people in Italy, Austria and Prussia. And there too he killed a great many. Now in Russia there was the Emperor Alexander, who decided to reestablish order in Europe, and therefore fought wars with Napoleon. But in the year ’07 he suddenly made friends with him, and in the year ’11 quarrelled with him again, and they both again began to kill a great many people. And Napoleon brought six hundred thousand men to Russia and conquered Moscow. But then he suddenly ran away from Moscow, and then the Emperor Alexander, aided by the advice of Stein and others, united Europe to raise an army against the disturber of her peace. All Napoleon’s allies suddenly became his enemies; and this army marched against Napoleon, who had gathered new forces. The allies conquered Napoleon, entered Paris, forced Napoleon to renounce the throne, and sent him to the island of Elba, without, however, depriving him of the title of Emperor, and showing him all respect, in spite of the fact that five years before, and a year after, everyone considered him a brigand and beyond the law. Thereupon Louis XVIII, who until then had been an object of mere ridicule to both Frenchmen and the allies, began to reign. As for Napoleon, after shedding tears before the Old Guard, he gave up his throne, and went into exile. Then astute statesmen and diplomats, in particular Talleyrand, who had managed to sit down before anyone else in the famous armchair1 and thereby to extend the frontiers of France, talked in Vienna, and by means of such talk made peoples happy or unhappy. Suddenly the diplomats and monarchs almost came to blows. They were almost ready to order their troops once again to kill each other; but at this moment Napoleon arrived in France with a battalion, and the French, who hated him, all immediately submitted to him. But this annoyed the allied monarchs very much and they again went to war with the French. And the genius Napoleon was defeated and taken to the island of St Helena, having suddenly been discovered to be an outlaw. Whereupon the exile, parted from his dear ones and his beloved France, died a slow death on a rock, and bequeathed his great deeds to posterity. As for Europe, a reaction occurred there, and all the princes began to treat their peoples badly once again.” 1 likes
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