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The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays Paperback – August 2, 2000
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The Proper Study of Mankind shows the full range of Berlin's work and the breadth of his interests. In "The Originality of Machiavelli," after summing up what others have thought of the author of The Prince, Berlin launches into his own thoughtful analysis, concluding that Machiavelli's most significant contribution to philosophy was "his de facto recognition that ends equally ultimate, equally sacred, may contradict each other, that entire systems of value may come into collision without possibility of rational arbitration, and that this happens not merely in exceptional circumstances, as a result of abnormality or accident or error ... but ... as part of the normal human situation." This concept of pluralism is the undercurrent that flows through much of Berlin's writing on the history of ideas, whether he addresses opposition to the French Enlightenment or considers Tolstoy's theory of history. Other treats to be found in this collection include the autobiographical "Conversations with Akhmatova and Pasternak" and what might be considered "intellectual profiles" of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. This book is highly recommended for any reader interested in modern philosophy; one can only hope that it will inspire some to delve into more of Berlin's work. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Berlin does not believe in final solutions to human questions. There is no definitive answer once and for all. Nor is there one way, the way, the only way to be, live, act, think, learn, work, write, express oneself, etc. Man is not singular. Man is plural. That is what makes humanity so facinating to "study." The mystery, the drama, the unpredictability of these intractable creatures baffle social scientists, human engineers, controlling personalities who--try as they may!--cannot quite track down, trap, take prisoner the wildly elusive chimera of "human nature."
Ah, but Shakespeare delights in this dazzling dance. And so does Berlin. He writes with riveting wonder at the butterfly flights of human beings, human minds, human wills, human histories. He traces errant clues left behind, on scattered pages, to defy the wind of time. Berlin is sensitive to these fragile fragments of thought, these traces, these rumblings of the human spirit. He is a great historian of ideas--one who listens with a keen sense of hearing for echoes and reverberations in the din of cacophony.Read more ›
Never have the readers of the New York Times been more humbled and mystified than the November day in 1997 when the paper ran a front page obituary for the Latvian-born British philosopher Isaiah Berlin. You could hear the collective gasp and feel the pull of the intake of breath as thousands of folks who pride themselves on being "in the know" turned to one another and asked, across a table laid with grapefruit halves and bran cereal,, "Was I supposed to know who Isaiah Berlin was? I've never heard of him." The answer is that there was no real reason most of us would have heard of him, though we'd likely read a couple of his book reviews. He was after all a philosopher who never produced a magnum opus summarizing his worldview. His reputation really rested on a couple of amusing anecdotes, one oft-cited essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox, and on his talents as a conversationalist, which would obviously only have been known to an elite few. Oddly enough, he has experienced a significant revival of interest since his death, but he is basically still just known for this essay.
If, like me, you finally forced yourself to read War and Peace and were simply mystified by several of the historic and battle scenes, this essay is a godsend. Though many critics, and would would assume almost all readers, have tended to just ignore these sections of the book, Berlin examines them in light of Tolstoy's philosophy of history and makes a compelling case that Tolstoy intended the action of these scenes to be confusing. As Berlin uses the fox and hedgehog analogy, a hedgehog is an author who has a unified vision which he follows in his writing ("...Read more ›
What Berlin is arguing in these essays is not that values do not exist, or that they are relative. It is more subtle: who said these values are all destined to converge together to form the perfectly virtuous man, as Aristotle seemed to think? Berlin uses the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle. The various virtues are like pieces of a puzzle, but who said this puzzle was a good one- that its pieces were designed to ultimately fit together, if only we were wise enough, learned enough, read enough, spiritual or religious enough, etc... And yet we seem to cling to this Platonic Ideal, this "ancient faith", as Berlin calls it, and sacrifice ourselves and our fellow man in trying to achieve a final solution to this puzzle. In this search for a final solution, no price seems to be too high to pay.
Can one be a perfect parent and be highly successful in their career?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I didn't know Isaiah Berlin at all until the mid' 1990's, when I took a subscription on the New York Review of Books. Berlin regularly published articles in it. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Marc L
Of course it warrants five stars. It is a compendium of Berlin's most widely beloved articles, a trove of treasures.Published 15 months ago by Michael Sinclair
Helps to make philosophical sense of the modern world with clarity.Published 18 months ago by michael duff
One of the Best books that I have read. Isaiah Berlin is a fountain of knowledge.Published 23 months ago by Jeremy W. Adams
It's like taking your mind for a power workout!
Insights and reflections about the nature of History -Philosophy - Knowledge and all things important to ponder deeply in... Read more
I have read two essays in the book, about Historical Inevitability and about Machiavelli. The key problem with the author's extremely verbose prose is to understand his detailed... Read morePublished on June 24, 2013 by Jackal
A well organized anthology of essays on a genius polyglot's philosophical foci. No doubt of Berlin's erudition. Trouble his writing style can be unpenetrable and wordy. Read morePublished on February 16, 2013 by NAS
Isaiah Berlin was one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century, who spent a lifetime examining the political impulses of modern Western culture, and gave credence to... Read morePublished on October 27, 2012 by Walter H. Combs