“Isaiah Berlin, Beyond the Wit”

Goldstein, Evan. “Isaiah Berlin, Beyond the Wit.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. November, 2009.


“Isaiah Berlin—renowned liberal theorist, historian of ideas, Oxford don, cultural gadfly—was one of the great raconteurs of his generation. According to Robert Darnton, a professor of history at Harvard University, Berlin holding forth resembled “a trapeze artist, soaring through every imaginable subject, spinning, flipping, hanging by his heels.” But Berlin, who died in 1997, worried about his reputation for rhetorical brilliance. Was he merely a clever talker, a frivolous wit? His letters, many of them collected in Enlightening: Letters 1946-1960, published by Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Random House, in Britain in July (and appearing in America in December), reveal a man at times consumed by self-doubt: “I generally think that everything I do is superficial, worthless, glaringly shallow, and could not take in an idiot child,” Berlin wrote to his friend Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in 1952.”

Chronicle of Higher Education