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The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays Paperback – August 2, 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

"Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not." So wrote Isaiah Berlin in "The Pursuit of the Ideal," the semiautobiographical essay that commences The Proper Study of Mankind, the intellectual equivalent of a "greatest hits" collection. Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1909, Berlin left the Soviet Union for England 12 years later. After being educated at St. Paul's and Oxford, he would go on to become one of the 20th century's most vigorous--and eclectic--political philosophers until his death in 1997.

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

Oxford professor, philosopher, and historian of ideas, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) was also one of the finest English essayists in the 20th century. This retrospective collection of 17 of his best essays surveys his entire career as a thinker, including his work in political philosophy and the philosophy of history, his thoughts on the Enlightenment, Vico, and Machiavelli, and his passion for Russian literature. Reprinted are such seminal essays as "Two Concepts Liberty" and "The Hedgehog and the Fox," as well as his reflections on Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Edited by scholars Hardy and Hausheer, who also provides an introduction, and with a foreword by Noel Annan, this book also includes a helpful bibliography. A fitting epitaph for a man passionately and eloquently devoted to ideas.AThomas L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st US paperbk edition (August 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374527172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374527174
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"The Proper Study of Mankind" is an awe-inspiring anthology of seventeen essays in the Humanities by the erudite and engaging Isaiah Berlin. The title may seem a bit stilted for Berlin, who is no starched collar, and whose writing is crisp, crackling, and refreshingly free of pomp and pedantry. But then...so long as one stops and thinks (something going out of fashion these days, but still very much in the spirit of Berlin)...that title does make sense. Of course! "The proper study of Mankind is Man." Not ideals. Not ideologies. But human beings as they really are--and what they actually do.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing -Archilochus, 8th century BC
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 ("...
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Format: Paperback
I picked up a copy of this anthalogy of essays as I was browsing the bookstore. This was a time when I was wrestling with the absolutism of monistic philosphical systems, whether religious or secular(communism, nazism, capitalism, individualism, etc...)vs. the opposite view- nihilistic and perspectivist relativism, which seems to look at the shortcomings of the virtues of each of these systems, and so then tosses them all out the window, leaving us with nothing. I was not aware that there could be a third alternative. I started reading the first essay, "the pursuit of the ideal", and felt absolutely thunderstruck! How often have you felt that way after reading a philosophical essay? Another essay in the same vein is "Two Concepts of Liberty".

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?
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