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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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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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. Berlin shows Tolstoy as a tragic genius riddled with contradictions and frustrations of misapprehension of his enormous talents in inability to say what he wanted to say the most - paint a true picture of human historical experience.
Style of Berlin's polemic is as always colorful, insightful, supremely observant and scholarly. Essay is no longer then 75 pages and would make for a delightful Sunday afternoon reading. Highly recommended!