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"One of the great thinkers of the age. Anyone seeking to understand the 20th century should acquire this volume, and its three predecessors. They will be both stimulated and enlightened" (Vernon Bogdanor, five stars Daily Telegraph)
"This fourth and final volume of Berlin's letters, admirably edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle, brings vividly back to life one of the most wise, witty and generous of men" (Philip Ziegler Spectator)
"The great magus of 20th-century liberalism" (Matthew d'Ancona Guardian)
"Berlin, at his best, reminding us that he was one of the great liberal thinkers of the postwar period" (David Herman New Statesman)
"Modest, polite and beautifully written, these letters can be viewed as open-ended conversations with kindred spirits. They are also an important attempt to document the history of the late 20th century." (Prospect)
"Affirming: Letters 1975–1997, edited, superbly, by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle, is a joy only slightly dulled by the knowledge that it is the final volume of Isaiah Berlin’s wise, witty and never less than entertaining correspondence." (John Banville Guardian, Best Books of 2015)
"Isaiah Berlin’s Affirming: Letters 1975-1997 ... contains some wonderful letters and a huge dollop of Berlin’s capacious mind as well as his fondness for gossip." (Justin Cartwright Guardian, Best Books of 2015)
"Starbursts of thought [...] texts full of gaiety, passion and temperance, which insistently resist the rampaging squaddies of mindless populism" (Richard Davenport-Hines The Times Literary Supplement)
"A triumphant conclusion [to] one of the most remarkable literary projects of our time ... amusing, compelling and illuminating ... Berlin’s Letters stand as a monument to European, Jewish, liberal civilisation in what may prove to be the last century of its recognisable flourishing" (S. J. D. Green Standpoint)
"One of the greatest pleasures of last year was polishing off the fourth and last volume of Isaiah Berlin's letters ... He consistently advanced two beliefs which should be born in mind in these troubled times. The first was an abhorrence of all-explaining systems of belief [...] the second is that good and desirable ends - freedom and equality, justice and security - are all too often incompatible, as a result of which compromises must be made ... He was a wise old bird and, if his letters are anything to go by, very lovable as well." (Jeremy Lewis The Oldie)
‘IB was one of the great affirmers of our time.’ John Banville, New York Review of Books
The title of this final volume of Isaiah Berlin’s letters is echoed by John Banville’s verdict in his review of its predecessor, Building: Letters 1960–75, which saw Berlin publish some of his most important work, and create, in Oxford’s Wolfson College, an institutional and architectural legacy. In the period covered by this new volume (1975–97) he consolidates his intellectual legacy with a series of essay collections. These generate many requests for clarification from his readers, and stimulate him to reaffirm and sometimes refine his ideas, throwing substantive new light on his thought as he grapples with human issues of enduring importance.
Berlin’s comments on world affairs, especially the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the collapse of Communism, are characteristically acute. This is also the era of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the Iranian revolution, the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, and wars in the Falkland Islands, the Persian Gulf and the Balkans. Berlin scrutinises the leading politicians of the day, including Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev, and draws illuminating sketches of public figures, notably contrasting the personas of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrey Sakharov. He declines a peerage, is awarded the Agnelli Prize for ethics, campaigns against philistine architecture in London and Jerusalem, helps run the National Gallery and Covent Garden, and talks at length to his biographer. He reflects on the ideas for which he is famous – especially liberty and pluralism – and there is a generous leavening of the conversational brilliance for which he is also renowned, as he corresponds with friends about politics, the academic world, music and musicians, art and artists, and writers and their work, always displaying a Shakespearean fascination with the variety of humankind.
Affirming is the crowning achievement both of Berlin’s epistolary life and of the widely acclaimed edition of his letters whose first volume appeared in 2004.
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