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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
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)
[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
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, OM, was born in Riga, now capital of Latvia, in 1909. He came to England in 1921 and was educated at St Paul's School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. At Oxford he was a Fellow of All Souls College (1932 –8, 1950 –67, 1975–97), a Fellow of New College (1938 –50), Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory (1957 –67), first President of Wolfson College (1966 –75) and President of the British Academy (1974–78). His achievements as a philosopher and historian of ideas earned him the Erasmus, Lippincott and Agnelli Prizes, and his lifelong defence of civil liberties the Jerusalem Prize. He died in 1997.
Henry Hardy, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is one of Isaiah Berlin’s Literary Trustees. He has (co-)edited many other books by Berlin – including this volume’s two predecessors, Flourishing and Enlightening – and other authors, and is also the editor of The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah Berlin (2009).
Mark Pottle is also a Fellow of Wolfson. He has co-edited the diaries and letters of Violet Bonham Carter, has collaborated in publishing a number of original First World War documents, and was Research Associate, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2000–2.