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The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History Paperback – January 28, 1993

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 95 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher; 1st Elephant paperback ed. edition (January 28, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566630193
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566630191
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #614,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Berlin is the paragon interpreter of aspects of the Western cannon. (Reader's Review )

About the Author

Sir Isaiah Berlin has spent the whole of his professional life at Oxford, where he is now a Fellow of All Souls College. His many books include Russian Thinkers, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Karl Marx, and Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Isaiah Berlin was a national treasure, and this book shows why.
One of the twentieth century's most incisive philosophers explores the psyche of one of the nineteenth century's most brilliant novelists.
Tolstoy shows great mastery of concrete, particular details and descriptions, and the nuances of character.
Martin H. Dickinson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Showalter on October 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
I really want to disagree with the reviewer below who said that this book is "overly academic" and "not interesting to someone without a serous research interest in Tolstoy". C'mon.
This is a HIGHLY readable book though probably only one that should be read after having read 'War and Peace'. In combination, the boring sections of 'War and Peace' and this book provide a pretty interesting dialogue and line of thought that can be comprehended by most anyone.....
This is a beautiful book and one that can be appreciated by tons the teeming multitudes and not just self-righteous undergraduates at small colleges in Massachusetts. Berlin is a very readable philosopher, which explains much of the reason WHY he is held in such esteem in the Anglo-American philosophical community....
Finally, who could ever say that this little tiny red book was worth neither the effort nor the expense. A must-buy.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is perhaps the most famous essay ever written in the history of ideas. Berlin analyzes the mind of Tolstoy as revealed in 'War and Peace'. He uses a quotation from Aristochulus , "The hedgehog knows one big thing, but the fox knows many little things "He then categorizes various intellectual figures as hedgehogs or foxes. He says that Tolstoy was a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog. In other words Tolstoy longed to put all reality into one great explanatory system but his faithfulness to his own remarkable sense of perception led him to see everywhere the fine distinctions and individual differences which constitute his own richly varied world.

What is interesting is that Berlin himself was fundamentally a fox in the world of ideas. He believed that there could be no one fundamental system explaining all. He not simply reveled in the variety of ideas, but he thought in terms of values that ' ideal ends' even within the individual's own thought are incompatible. That is that it is not simply a question of the ' variety of the world' which confounds the system - builder but the ' inherent contradictions ' within it , which cannot be resolved into any great single Platonic or Hegelian system.

A celebrator of the variety of life and existence Berlin saw that Tolstoy could represent and create such variety in the highest possible way while still somehow wishing he were able to unite it all into one.

Apparently there is 'no unified field theory' in the world of history or the history of ideas , either.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Boris Aleksandrovsky on May 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
Sir Isaiah Berlin has written a critical acclaim of the historic views of famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy as expressed in one of his masterpieces "War and Piece". In 'The Hedgehog and The Fox' (1953), Dr. Berlin compares and contracts the monist and pluralist historical philosophies. According to Archilochus "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This can be interpreted that there is a philosophy of a single undiminished holistic truth or principle governing all history, or there is a myriad little ideas, truths and inclinations which together govern mens historical experience.
Tolstoy, according to Berlin, is a fox (whose talent is by the way in precisely being a fox), who is however convinced in the ways of the hedgehog. Tolstoy is at his greatest when he describes the subtle undertones of human existence, these barely perceptible little differences which makes living so full and colorful, range of emotions and feelings. He does not believe, however, that this is all that is, and insists on some ill-defined fundamental truth. This makes his writing wooden, unhistorical, and simplistic at times.
Berlin makes a perceptive observations on the interest of Tolstoy's in some of the figures of Counter-Enlightenment (such as Maestre and Vico). These proponents of the view of the world which denies all-pervasive powers of reductionist science and allocates the central place to a simple idea (e.g. Christian moral idea) are closer to Tolstoy; and from this point of view and interest Tolstoy's last "religious" period owes its inspiration.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Grublet on July 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this essay, Isaiah Berlin discusses and interprets Tolstoy's view of history. In the process, he uses Tolstoy's enormous novel, WAR AND PEACE, as his major source. Those of you who have read WAR AND PEACE will remember the frequent theoretical passages that discuss the practice and philosophy of history. These passages provide Berlin with fodder for his examination.
Berlin claims that there are two broad categories of thinkers: hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs single-mindedly pursue one ideological goal and organize their thoughts in relation to it. Foxes are knowledgeable in a number of areas but do not specialize in any one.
The basic claim of Berlin's essay is that Tolstoy is a fox masquerading as a hedgehog. Tolstoy desperately wants to believe in a single thing, but is thwarted by his own personality. This dynamic profoundly affects Tolstoy's view of history. As a fox, he exposes past philosophies of history as the oversimplifications they are. They do not sufficiently take into account the complexity of every event and of every individual. However, Tolstoy is unable to produce the positive theory of history which he demands of himself (i.e. he is unable to make himself a hedgehog).
Berlin's essay is a very innovative and interesting interpretation of an aspect of Tolstoy's thought that is frequently dismissed. It is also a work of literary and philosophical criticism. Its tone is academic, and if Tolstoy's own digressions in WAR AND PEACE bore you, you may not want to pick this book up. Given the interest, though, this book is a thought-provoking complement to the work of this sometimes enigmatic Russian author.
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