- Hardcover: 213 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; British First edition (May 1 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684193949
- ISBN-13: 978-0684193946
- Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 1.9 x 24.8 cm
- Shipping Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,774,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Conversations With Isaiah Berlin Hardcover – May 1 1992
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From Library Journal
What began as an interview of the noted British philosopher and historian of ideas, conducted by the Iranian philosopher Jahanbegloo for the journal Esprit , grew into a series of five conversations, comprising a sort of intellectual memoir. They range over Berlin's writings on historicism, pluralism, and liberty as well as the ideas of thinkers such as Vico, Herder, and Herzen. Berlin also speaks of his many friends and acquaintances among the important thinkers and artists of the 20th century. Both urbane and opinionated, these conversations provide an able introduction to Berlin's thought that ultimately sends us back to his many books and essays. A fitting history of the ideas of the great historian of ideas.
- T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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"For me a great man in public life, is one who deliberately causes something important to happen, the probability of which seemed low before he took up the task. A great man is a man who gives history a turn without which it scarcely could have taken without him."
"The purpose of Zionism is normalization; the creation of conditions in which the Jews could live as a nation,like the others. Alexander Kojeve whom I spoke of before once said to me." The Jews have the most interesting history of any people. Yet now they want to be what? Albania? How can they?" I said "For the Jews to be like Albania constitutesprogress. 600,000 Jews in Romania were victims- before the Nazis.They tried to escape. But 600,000 Jews in Palestine did not leave because Rommel was at their door. That is the difference. They considered Palestine to be their own country, and if they had to die they would die not like trapped animals but for the country."
" I believe there is nothing more destructive of human lives than fanatical conviction about the perfect life,allied to political or military power.Our century affords terrible evidence of this truth.I believe in working for a minimally decent society.If we can go beyond this to a wider life, so much the better.But even a minimum of decency is more than we have in some countries."
"But not every genius is like one's image of a genius.Pasternak was such a one. He talked marvellously, he was a little unhinged at times, but at all times a man of pure genius. Nobody could have had a more fascinating experience than to listen to him talk- in my exprience only Virginia Woolf talked something like that. She too, of course, was a trifle crazy"
The problem, in a nutshell, is that if you are at all familiar with Berlin, then not much of this info will come as anything new. He discusses his view of pluralism, his admiration for Herder and Vico, his zionism, and several other well known areas of Berlin's thoughts.
The interviewer, in particular, did not ask very illuminating questions and as such, Berlin gives less than illuminating answers. At times (just my perception) it seemed like Berlin himself was less than pleased with a few of the questions. One important one that was not but should have been asked (as it is much on any Berlin-admirer's mind)is how he can reconcile pluralism (the belief that values irreducibly conflict both personally and interpersonally) and relativism (the view that ethical truths and ideals may simply be relative). While pluralism and relativism were talked of, there was not a single word about this question (that more than a few Berlin scholars have troubled over).
I gave the book three stars because it is just too hard to give Berlin any less. To be sure, I did like the book and the interview style makes it very readable and in some senses exciting ("Yeah! I would've asked that one. I wonder what he'll say?") It may suffer from a problem long known to Berlin - his work is too historical for philosophers and too philosophical for historians. For me, it was just right. It may be for you too. If you are fairly new to Berlin this is a good place to start. If you are a veteran (or moderately so) you won't find much new or illuminating here.