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In the period covered here (1960–75) Isaiah Berlin creates Wolfson College, Oxford; John F. Kennedy becomes US President (and is assassinated); Berlin dines with JFK on the day he is told of the Soviet missile bases in Cuba; the Six-Day Arab–Israeli war of 1967 creates problems that are still with us today; Richard M. Nixon succeeds Johnson as US President and resigns over Watergate; and the long agony of the Vietnam War grinds on in the background.
At the same time Berlin publishes some of his most important work, including Four Essays on Liberty – the key texts of his liberal pluralism – and the essays later included in Vico and Herder. He talks on the radio, appears on television and in documentary films and gives numerous lectures, especially his celebrated Mellon Lectures, later published as The Roots of Romanticism.
Behind these public events is a constant stream of gossip and commentary, acerbic humour and warm personal feeling. Berlin writes about an enormous range of topics to a sometimes dazzling cast of correspondents. This new volume leaves no doubt that Berlin is one of the very best letter-writers of the twentieth century.
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IB was one of the great affirmers of our time, a man to be admired not only for his intellectual achievements but for his loyalty, his humor, his modesty, his delight in the world and the people in it. Building is a wonderful edifice in his honor, meticulously, indeed lovingly, edited and annotated - New York Review of Books
Berlin was sui generis. There never was anyone like him before, and there probably will not be anyone like him again... He was, above all, a genuine -- as opposed to a stage -- liberal, who believed people were entitled to their beliefs and even to their prejudices, and both could be accommodated - Independent on Sunday
Consistently interesting and at times strikingly unexpected, these letters show sides of Berlin that have not been seen before - Literary Review
Berlin's achievement was immense, in making ideas entertaining in a culture generally averse to them... One way to read [him] today is to relish the passionate man between the high-flown lines - Independent
There are many wonderful sketches. Of, for example, President Kennedy... or Roy Jenkins... and there are damning judgments of many great and good... Dip in and savour a lost world.... For reasons of technology (email and text) and also of intellectual culture the letters of today's Berlins... will simply not exist for future historians - Sunday Times (Culture)
Many of us who care about ideas feel a nostalgia for a time when thinkers were taken seriously and when irony was the spice of intellectual life rather than its meat. few exemplify this mythical age better than the 20th-century historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin... These letters often capture his insights with greater concision and sharpness than the originals... there is more here to enlighten and entertain than in the collected works of most of his contemporaries. In their introduction, the editors say: 'If this is not one of the best letter-writers of the 20th century, we are ready to eat our respective hats.' Gentlemen, you can leave your hats on. - Observer (New Review)
Even more engrossing and entertaining than the previous volumes of Berlin’s correspondence. Pure joy - Observer
[It] finds the philosopher deeply embroiled in the great world, one day dining with JFK and the next engaged in trying not to laugh at Igor Stravinsky. A marvellous book, fascinating, irreverent and funny - Irish Times
Readers will be enriched, informed, amused – and grateful that Berlin never mastered concision - The Sunday Times
The letters are compelling. There is wit, charm and effortless erudition - Daily Telegraph
In Building, a new and weighty volume of letters written between 1960 and 1975, all of Berlin’s characteristic gifts are on display… Serious and sceptical, wry and self-aware even when pessimistic, he is revealed once again as a captivating presence - Financial Times
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.