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About the book
  • Published: 15 April 2011
  • ISBN: 9781844138340
  • Imprint: Pimlico
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 880
  • RRP: $42.99

Enlightening: Letters 1946 - 1960

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The second volume of Isaiah Berlin's revelatory letters, spanning 1946–1960

‘People are my landscape’, Isaiah Berlin liked to say, and nowhere is the truth of this observation more evident than in his letters. He is a fascinated watcher of human beings in all their variety, and revels in describing them to his many correspondents. His letters combine ironic social comedy and a passionate concern for individual freedom. His interpretation of political events, historical and contemporary, and his views on how life should be lived, are always grounded in the personal, and his fiercest condemnation is reserved for purveyors of grand abstract theories that ignore what people are really like.

This second volume of Berlin’s letters takes up the story when, after war service in the United States, he returns to life as an Oxford don. Against the background of post-war austerity, the letters chart years of academic frustration and self-doubt, the intellectual explosion when he moves from philosophy to the history of ideas, his growing national fame as broadcaster and lecturer, the publication of some of his best-known works, his election to a professorship, and his reaction to knighthood.

Berlin’s visits to American universities, where he sees McCarthyism at work, and his journeys eastward – to Europe, Palestine (and later Israel) and the Soviet Union – inspire acute and often very funny pen-pictures. His political contacts yield an inside view of major world events – the creation of Israel, the Suez Crisis, the Cold War. Many letters provide illuminating, accessible commentary on his ideas. These are the years, too, of momentous developments in his private life: the bachelor don’s loss of sexual innocence, the emotional turmoil of his father’s death, his courtship of a married woman and transformation into husband and stepfather. Above all, these revealing letters vividly display Berlin’s effervescent personality – often infuriating, but always irresistible.

  • Pub date: 15 April 2011
  • ISBN: 9781844138340
  • Imprint: Pimlico
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 880
  • RRP: $42.99

About the Author

Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin was born in Riga, now capital of Latvia, in 1909. When he was six, his family moved to Russia, and in Petrograd in 1917 Berlin witnessed both Revolutions - Social Democratic and Bolshevik. In 1921 he and his parents emigrated to England, where he was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Apart from his war service in New York, Washington, Moscow and Leningrad, he remained at Oxford thereafter - as a Fellow of All Souls, then of New College, as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, and as founding President of Wolfson College. He also held the Presidency of the British Academy.

His published work includes Karl Marx, Russian Thinkers, Concepts and Categories, Against the Current, Personal Impressions, The Sense of Reality, The Proper Study of Mankind, The Roots of Romanticism, The Power of Ideas, Three Critics of the Enlightenment, Freedom and Its Betrayal, Liberty, The Soviet Mind and Political Ideas in the Romantic Age. As an exponent of the history of ideas he was awarded the Erasmus, Lippincott and Agnelli Prizes; he also received the Jerusalem Prize for his lifelong defence of civil liberties. He died in 1997.

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Praise for Enlightening: Letters 1946 - 1960

“As well as being sometimes profoundly wise, these letters are often laugh-out-loud funny.”

Brian Lunch, Irish Times

“The letters are often mischievous, sometimes ironic, almost always witty, and occasionally profound.”

Justin Cartwright, New Statesman

“They delight in flashing the stiletto, these donnish types, and impossible to conceive would be a college in which no academic grown had a dagger sticking out of the back. It is precisely this kind of malice which constitutes a naughty proportion of the book's appeal”


“Readers of Berlin's letters will find the same bubbling flow of malice, wit and human insight on the written page”

The Economist

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