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.
In this outstanding collection of essays, Isaiah Berlin, one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century, discusses the importance of dissenters in the history of ideas--among them Machiavelli, Vico, Montesquieu, Herzen, and Sorel. With his unusual powers of imaginative re-creation, Berlin brings to life original minds that swam against the current of their times--and still challenge conventional wisdom.
In a new foreword to this corrected edition, which also includes a new appendix of letters in which Berlin discusses and further illuminates some of its topics, noted essayist Mark Lilla argues that Berlin's decision to give up a philosophy fellowship and become a historian of ideas represented not an abandonment of philosophy but a decision to do philosophy by other, perhaps better, means. "His instinct told him," Lilla writes, "that you learn more about an idea as an idea when you know something about its genesis and understand why certain people found it compelling and were spurred to action by it." This collection of fascinating intellectual portraits is a rich demonstration of that belief.