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  • Published: 1 September 2015
  • ISBN: 9781784740085
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 704
  • RRP: $110.00


Letters 1975-1997

The fourth and final volume of Isaiah Berlin’s much admired letters

‘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.

  • Published: 1 September 2015
  • ISBN: 9781784740085
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 704
  • RRP: $110.00

About the author

Isaiah Berlin

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.

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Praise for Affirming

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.


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.


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

[Affirming] brings together the vividly written, wide-ranging and penetrating correspondence of one of the great liberal humanist minds of the 20th century

R. C. Richardson, Times Higher Education, Books of 2015

One way of reading this richly absorbing collection is as a running commentary on the closing decades of the 20th century by one of its most civilised and penetrating minds. The most unexpected letters, though, are some long and detailed defences of his own ideas

John Gray, Literary Review

The fourth in the grand series of Isaiah Berlin’s correspondence [...] keeps up the flow of high cultural commentary and gossip

Jewish Chronicle

Affirming is an excellent source for the understanding of Berlin's thought in various contexts. But the letters also show Berlin's capacity for friendship, his sympathetic understanding of characters and viewpoints... At the risk of solecism, Icn bin ein Berliner

Brendan McLaughlin, Oldie

Isaiah Berlin is considered one of the letter-writers of the 20th century... those who give into temptation to flick through will be infinitely rewarded

Oxford Times

Sparkles with brilliance and generosity

Jon M. Sweeney, The Tablet

Meticulously edited and footnoted.

Robert Fulford, National Post

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