Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas

Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas

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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.

About the Author

Isaiah Berlin was a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He was renowned as an essayist and as the author of many books, among them Karl Marx, Four Essays on Liberty, Russian Thinkers, The Sense of Reality, The Proper Study of Mankind, and, from Princeton, Concepts and Categories, Personal Impressions, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, The Hedgehog and the Fox, The Roots of Romanticism, The Power of Ideas, and Three Critics of the Enlightenment. Henry Hardy, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is one of Isaiah Berlin's literary trustees. He has edited several other volumes by Berlin and is currently preparing Berlin's letters and remaining unpublished writings for publication.


"A most remarkable intellectual achievement. There are few books published in our time which more dazzlingly illuminate some of the most crucial problems of western culture and civilisation."

—Goronwy Rees, Encounter

"Isaiah Berlin was the most esteemed intellectual figure in the English-speaking world. Against the Current may be the most representative of [his] books."

—Mark Feeney, Boston Globe

"Berlin expounds the ideas of half-forgotten thinkers with luminous clarity and imaginative empathy . . . exhilarating to read."

—Keith Thomas, Observer

"A Jewish refugee from Bolshevik Russia who found a home in the British establishment, Isaiah Berlin was always drawn to the traffic between insiders and outsiders, between fugitive experiences and dominant norms. We see this attraction in these classic essays: not only in his article on nationalism, which he saw as the work of non-nationals, but also in his continuous effort to introduce strange figures into the canon and to make canonical figures strange. Paddling against the current, Berlin made us feel the full extent and depth of its force."

—Corey Robin, City University of New York

"An excellent new edition. Mark Lilla's bracing foreword elegantly reminds philosophers why they need to read Berlin, and the judiciously chosen letters from Berlin's personal correspondence illuminate the thinking behind some of his most celebrated essays."

—Jan-Werner Mueller, Princeton University

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Tags: Against the Current, Isaiah Berlin, 9780691156101, Princeton University Press