Patrick McCoy's Reviews > The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas

The Crooked Timber of Humanity by Isaiah Berlin
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Sep 22, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: essays

I’ve been intrigued by Isaiah Berlin ever since I found out that he was the author of the seminal essay on Tolstoy, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” His collection of later essays, The Crooked Timber of History, was equally compelling. The first two essays, “The Pursuit of the Ideal” and “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West,” were interesting in the discussion of the inevitable failure of utopian movements like communism and fascism due to the fact that ideals differ from culture to culture. This concept of cultural pluralism dominates the discourse in his essay, “Giambattista and Cultural History,” in which he calls Vico the true father of the modern concept of culture and cultural pluralism. The rest of the essays are equally thought provoking and compelling: “Alleged Relativism in Eighteen-Century European Thought,” Joseph de Mainstre and the Origins of Fascism,” “European Unity and its Vicissitudes,” “The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will,” and “The Bent Twig.” More often than not philosophical texts can be quite dry and hard to follow, however, I found Berlin’s style challenging but accessible.
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