The most recommended Isaiah Berlin books

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3 authors created a book list connected to Isaiah Berlin, and here are their favorite Isaiah Berlin books.
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Book cover of The Maverick: George Weidenfeld and the Golden Age of Publishing

Mike Hulme Author Of Climate Change Isn't Everything: Liberating Climate Politics from Alarmism

From Mike's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Professor Dreamer Christian Lover of cats

Mike's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Mike Hulme Why did Mike love this book?

George Weidenfeld was a giant of the publishing world in the second half of the twentieth century. 

Harding tells Weidenfeld’s story, from birth in Vienna in 1919 to death in London in 2016, through the lens of 19 of the books that Weidenfeld brought (or didn’t bring) into being throughout his career. As a device for a biography, this is sheer genius. 

By telling the story of Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox, Watson’s The Double Helix and the book that never was – Mick Jagger’s autobiography – and many others, Thomas Harding reveals the controversies, scandals, elite parties, and political handshakes that Weidenfeld, a refugee from Nazi Austria in August 1938, attracted throughout his life. 

My evening hour of reading turned into two, three, or four hours, as I needed to know what came next. 

By Thomas Harding,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Maverick as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1919, George Weidenfeld fled to England in 1938 to escape the Nazi regime. There he began a career in publishing that would make him one of the most influential figures in the industry. Over the course of his long and illustrious career he championed some of the most important voices of the twentieth century, from Vladimir Nabokov, Mary McCarthy and Saul Bellow to Harold Wilson, Isaiah Berlin and Henry Kissinger.

But what do we know about the man himself? Was he, as described by some, the 'greatest salesperson', 'the world's best networker',…


Book cover of The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays

Henry Hardy Author Of In Search of Isaiah Berlin: A Literary Adventure

From my list on Isaiah Berlin.

Who am I?

I had the supreme good fortune to know Berlin (1909–97) for nearly twenty-five years, and to work with him as his principal editor for most of that time; I continued this work after his death and it still occupies me now. He was one of the great human beings of the twentieth century, an essayist and letter-writer of genius, and a bewitching bridge between academia and the general civilised life of the mind. His ideas are fertile and illuminating to this day, and the immediately recognisable voice of his prose is the best possible intellectual company.

Henry's book list on Isaiah Berlin

Henry Hardy Why did Henry love this book?

This is the book for readers who wish to sample Berlin’s kaleidoscopic, multidisciplinary work in a single volume across its whole range. It includes his most celebrated essays in philosophy, political theory, the history of ideas, and twentieth-century portraiture. His two most famous pieces, The Hedgehog and the Fox (on Tolstoy’s view of history) and Two Concepts of Liberty (on ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ political freedom), are here, as are his accounts of his formative meetings with the great Russian poets Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, his impressions of Churchill and Roosevelt, and his pellucid accounts of romanticism and nationalism. The essays are linked by his ruling preoccupation with understanding human nature in all its irreducibly various guises: what he called, following Kant, ‘the crooked timber of humanity’.

By Isaiah Berlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Proper Study of Mankind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'He becomes everyman's guide to everything exciting in the history of ideas' New York Review of Books

Isaiah Berlin was one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century, and one of the finest writers. The Proper Study Of Mankind selects some of his best essays in which his insights both illuminate the past and offer a key to the burning issues of today.

The full (and enormous) range of his work is represented here, from the exposition of his most distinctive doctrine - pluralism - to studies of Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Churchill and Roosevelt. In these pages he encapsulates the…


Book cover of Four Essays on Liberty

James Fallon Author Of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey Into the Dark Side of the Brain

From my list on philosophies.

Who am I?

Philosophy is defined as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.” Put another way, it is not so much the study of things and phenomena, but the derivative question below the veneer of what things are. I am interested in everything, how everything works, but also why it, and all of nature, including the mind and eyelashes, exist in the first place. I can remember back to childhood always thinking like this. This involves grasping for knowledge of both the details and global contexts of everything, whether it’s biology, chemistry, religion, neuroscience, horticulture, violence, goodness, hockey, or even what Plato was trying to say.

James' book list on philosophies

James Fallon Why did James love this book?

I mention this book as a way to listen to some old hour-long video talks by the sage Isaiah Berlin. He did, in fact, hate to write, but he loved talking. After reading any of his several essays, go right to the meat. Which will give the political, philosophical How-to Guide to leading a Nazi, Marxist or Terrorist revolution. I give talks and podcasts on the biological psychiatry of such evils and he is my go-to guy.

By Isaiah Berlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Four Essays on Liberty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The four essays are `Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century'; `Historical Inevitability', which the Economist described as `a magnificent assertion of the reality of human freedom, of the role of free choice in history'; `Two Concepts of Liberty', a ringing manifesto for pluralism and individual freedom; and `John Stuart Mill and the Ends of Life'. There is also a long and masterly introduction written specially for this collection, in which the author replies to his critics. This book is intended for students from undergraduate level upwards studying philosopohy, history, politics. Admirers of Isaiah Berlin's writings.


Book cover of The Roots of Romanticism

Michael K. Ferber Author Of Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on how romanticism transformed western culture.

Who am I?

I fell in love with the British Romantic poets when I took a course about them, and I fixated like a chick on the first one we studied, William Blake. He seemed very different from me, and in touch with something tremendous: I wanted to know about it. Ten years later I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Blake, and then published quite a bit about him. Meanwhile there were other poets, poets in other countries, and painters and musicians: besides being accomplished at their art, I find their ideas about nature, the self, art, and society still resonate with me.

Michael's book list on how romanticism transformed western culture

Michael K. Ferber Why did Michael love this book?

Though he declines to define it, Berlin says “The importance of romanticism is that it is the largest recent movement to transform the lives and the thought of the Western world.” In this brief set of lectures he dwells mainly on German writers, since Germany was arguably the homeland of romanticism. Berlin seems to know everything, but his erudition does not interfere with his lively style. What the book lacks in thoroughness it more than makes up with sharp and provocative ideas.

By Isaiah Berlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Roots of Romanticism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Roots of Romanticism, one of the twentieth century's most influential philosophers dissects and assesses a movement that changed the course of history. Brilliant, fresh, immediate, and eloquent, these celebrated Mellon Lectures are a bravura intellectual performance. Isaiah Berlin surveys the many attempts to define romanticism, distills its essence, traces its developments from its first stirrings to its apotheosis, and shows how it still permeates our outlook. He ranges over a cast of some of the greatest thinkers and artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including Kant, Rousseau, Diderot, Schiller, the Schlegels, Novalis, Goethe, Blake, Byron, and Beethoven.…


Book cover of Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Henry Hardy Author Of In Search of Isaiah Berlin: A Literary Adventure

From my list on Isaiah Berlin.

Who am I?

I had the supreme good fortune to know Berlin (1909–97) for nearly twenty-five years, and to work with him as his principal editor for most of that time; I continued this work after his death and it still occupies me now. He was one of the great human beings of the twentieth century, an essayist and letter-writer of genius, and a bewitching bridge between academia and the general civilised life of the mind. His ideas are fertile and illuminating to this day, and the immediately recognisable voice of his prose is the best possible intellectual company.

Henry's book list on Isaiah Berlin

Henry Hardy Why did Henry love this book?

Ignatieff’s intensely readable authorised biography of Berlin is based on a decade of recorded conversations with his subject about all aspects of his life, as well as on a study of the massive archive of letters and other papers that Berlin left at his death. As a result it has many of the characteristics of the autobiography that Berlin never wrote, but one filtered through Ignatieff’s shrewd critical intelligence, deployed in the service of the liberal humanist outlook that he shares with his subject.

By Michael Ignatieff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Isaiah Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Isaiah Berlin refused to write an autobiography, but he agreed to talk about himself - and so for ten years, he allowed Michael Ignatieff to interview him. Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) was one of the greatest and most humane of modern philosophers; historian of the Russian intellgentisia biographer of Marx, pioneering scholar of the Romantic movement and defender of the liberal idea of freedom. His own life was caught up in the most powerful currents of the century. The son of a Riga timber merchant, he witnessed the Russian Revolution, was plunged into suburban school life and the ferment of 1930s…


Book cover of Russian Thinkers

Henry Hardy Author Of In Search of Isaiah Berlin: A Literary Adventure

From my list on Isaiah Berlin.

Who am I?

I had the supreme good fortune to know Berlin (1909–97) for nearly twenty-five years, and to work with him as his principal editor for most of that time; I continued this work after his death and it still occupies me now. He was one of the great human beings of the twentieth century, an essayist and letter-writer of genius, and a bewitching bridge between academia and the general civilised life of the mind. His ideas are fertile and illuminating to this day, and the immediately recognisable voice of his prose is the best possible intellectual company.

Henry's book list on Isaiah Berlin

Henry Hardy Why did Henry love this book?

As a Russian Jew and Russian-speaker by birth, a witness of the Russian Revolution, a historian of ideas by vocation, and a consummate prose-writer, Berlin was able to extract the pith of the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia and present it in English as no one else has before or since. Belinsky, Herzen, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and others come to life in these ten essays and speak to us and our concerns today in Berlin’s ventriloquistic tours de force.

In particular, Herzen’s passionate denunciation of political extremism plays a central role, and provides a moral underpinning for Berlin’s commitment to liberty. The book is a major contribution to the explanation of Russia to the West, and the reader is left in no doubt about the relevance and power of the ideas that Berlin illuminates.


By Isaiah Berlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Russian Thinkers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few, if any, English-language critics have written as perceptively as Isaiah Berlin about Russian thought and culture. Russian Thinkers is his unique meditation on the impact that Russia's outstanding writers and philosophers had on its culture. In addition to Tolstoy's philosophy of history, which he addresses in his most famous essay, 'The Hedgehog and the Fox,' Berlin considers the social and political circumstances that produced such men as Herzen, Bakunin, Turgenev, Belinsky, and others of the Russian intelligentsia, who made up, as Berlin describes, 'the largest single Russian contribution to social change in the world.'


Book cover of The Polyglots

Tom Lutz Author Of Portraits: Moments of Intimacy on the Road

From Tom's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Literary critic Professor Traveler

Tom's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Tom Lutz Why did Tom love this book?

Almost every one of the hundreds of books I’ve read in the last few years was published in 1925, and The Polyglots was among the most fascinating.

Gerhardie is rarely read now—although republished by NYRB Classics—but at the time, he was widely hailed as a genius: Graham Greene, Isaiah Berlin, and Evelyn Waugh are said to have spent their college days walking around with copies of his books; Greene said Gerhardie was “the most important new novelist to appear in our young life.”

The Polyglots has a Rabelaisian level of goofy mayhem and a Tristram Shandy-like wry understatement, with large ladlefuls of Kafka and Wodehouse. The blasé, amoral hero wanders from Russia’s far east and then onto Harbin, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Cairo, and elsewhere in a rambunctious picaresque journey peopled with eccentrics of every stripe.

As he wrote to his publisher in 1931, when his star was already fading,…

By William Gerhardie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Polyglots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Polyglots is the story of an eccentric Belgian family living in the Far East in the uncertain years after World War I and the Russian Revolution. The tale is recounted by their dryly conceited young English relative, Captain Georges Hamlet Alexander Diabologh, who comes to stay with them during a military mission. Teeming with bizarre characters—depressives, obsessives, paranoiacs, hypochondriacs, and sex maniacs—Gerhardie paints a brilliantly absurd world where the comic and the tragic are profoundly and irrevocably entwined.


Book cover of Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought

Henry Hardy Author Of In Search of Isaiah Berlin: A Literary Adventure

From my list on Isaiah Berlin.

Who am I?

I had the supreme good fortune to know Berlin (1909–97) for nearly twenty-five years, and to work with him as his principal editor for most of that time; I continued this work after his death and it still occupies me now. He was one of the great human beings of the twentieth century, an essayist and letter-writer of genius, and a bewitching bridge between academia and the general civilised life of the mind. His ideas are fertile and illuminating to this day, and the immediately recognisable voice of his prose is the best possible intellectual company.

Henry's book list on Isaiah Berlin

Henry Hardy Why did Henry love this book?

John Gray’s encounter with Berlin’s ideas, first published in Berlin’s lifetime, remains one of the most intriguing and challenging explorations of the intellectual territories that he inhabited. Gray is not afraid to disagree with Berlin, but makes clear where he goes beyond him to present his own interpretation of the topics by which they are both preoccupied: freedom, pluralism, history, nationalism, Romanticism, the Enlightenment, and liberalism.

By John Gray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Isaiah Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) was the greatest intellectual historian of the twentieth century. But his work also made an original and important contribution to moral and political philosophy and to liberal theory. In 1921, at the age of eleven, Isaiah Berlin arrived in England from Riga, Latvia. By the time he was thirty he was at the heart of British intellectual life. He has remained its commanding presence ever since, and few would dispute that he was one of Britain's greatest thinkers. His reputation extends worldwide--as a great conversationalist, intellectual historian, and man of letters. He has been called the century's…