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The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History Paperback – December 26, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (December 26, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374525692
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374525699
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The publication of a new book by Sir Isaiah Berlin is always a welcome thing, and The Sense of Reality is no exception. In this volume the eminent scholar gathers nine long essays, eight previously unpublished, on the ideas that have governed European history for the last three centuries: nationalism, liberalism, and especially Marxism. Always seeking to draw moral lessons, Berlin wonders aloud why it is that humans admire men stirred by the lust for power or jealousy of others, or monomaniacal vanity--including notable figures of history like Peter the Great and Napoleon. He proposes a few answers in this study of ideas brought to power, and those answers are always illuminating. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Berlin was the leading historian of Western ideas in the post-World War II period until his recent death. His essays and interviews have now been published in several volumes. In this representative volume, Berlin traces the rise and fall of Fascist and Communist utopian thinking since the beginning of the 19th century. (LJ 5/1/97)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
All of Isaiah Berlin's books are good. But this one is his best.
"The Sense of Reality" is a collection of nine brilliant essays on "ideas and their history." Each essay is a powerhouse of intellectual electricity!
In a style that is stimulating, compelling--and, in the end, irresistible--Berlin writes about ideas with all the nervous energy of an enthusiast.
Yet he is clear to the end. He is a great explainer. He distinguishes one thing from another. He takes on the knots, unties them, and lets go of the rope.
The effect on the reader is one of exhilarating liberation. One can breathe a little freer. At the same time, one must breathe a little harder. Up here, at high altitude, in the Sierras of the cerebellum, the air is crisp as paper. And our guide, our cicerone, our Isaiah, keeps us skipping--at a dizzying pace!--from mountaintop to mountaintop.
As the pages turn, they envelop the reader in a whirlpool of words that round up the ideas--only to plunge them into a deep sea of profound thought. Once again, we gasp for air.
Indeed, it seems that, wherever Berlin takes us--the mountains, seas, skies, stars of the mind--we are left dazzled, breathless, tottering on the edge of horizons that become elastic, expansive, infinite . . .
In the title essay, Berlin writes of the "disturbing experience," the "electric shock," of "genuinely profound insight"--which he likens to the touching of nerves deeply embedded in our most private thoughts and basic beliefs.
This is not Science. This is the Humanities. Not the mechanics of Newton. But the Pensees of Pascal. Not knowledge. But knowing that "there is too much we do not know, but dimly surmise."
Very well.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Z. Yixin on November 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is exactly one of the best books of Isaiah Berlin. Especially in the paper of "Philosophy & Government Repression", Berlin explained clearly in a British/Oxon point of view about those very basic, but very important questions, such as what the real subject of philosophical studies should be, what philosophy is, what kind of philosophers are the first class ones? etc. etc. A clear-headed statement for all people who interested in philosophical topics or even try to "teach" philosphy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Shane M. Conway on July 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
I have, since first reading this book a few years ago, made an effort to add it to the libraries of all my friends whenever a holiday occurs. It is a book that I reread whenever I want to be stimulated. The opening essay, "The Sense of Reality", is a masterful study of historical thinking. Berlin is able to pick apart massive themes and shape them to his interests. There is a good reason that he has been labeled by many as one of the greatest essayists of all time; this collection certainly rivals "The Hedgehog and the Fox".
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By Marc Riese on August 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
This profound and enlightening book is one of several anthologies of Isaiah Berlin's essays and speeches. All of the nine pieces in this book are informed, perceptive discussions of concepts ("ideas"), either about history itself, in a broad sense including politics and philosophy, or related to a particular historical time. About half of the pieces are general and are the most relevant to the modern reader and the rest are more specific. The first three pieces are about human sensing of reality as it is relevant to history, politics and repression. The next two deal with socialism and nineteenth century Marxism. The last four pieces deal with the real Romantic revolution, the Russian legacy of artistic commitment, Kant and nationalism, and Tagore and nationality. This anthology collects unpublished works and was edited near the end of Berlin's life and so does not necessarily reflect how Berlin himself might have published the material.

Berlin's erudition, understanding and mountain-top perspective are a pleasure to experience. His sentences are the opposite extreme of the pabulum style of modern twelve-steps-to-whatever books; they are long and rich with thoughtful clauses and parentheses. For example, in a sentence about what makes statesmen successful comes a parenthetical remark that Vico was really a "theologian in historical clothing". The structure of his reasoning is not spelled out in advance. Appreciating Berlin's elaborate style is a matter of taste; some of his musings will hide the simplicity of the underlying point for a modern reader unused to this disappearing style. For example, one could reduce his first essay to the truism that increased abstraction reduces the predictive capacity of a model, but the value of Berlin's text lies exactly in the details.
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