Friday, December 27, 2013

December 2013 - Berlin's Letters 1960-1975

Sir Isaiah Berlin
By the metrics of American professors, Sir Isaiah Berlin did not publish much, but what he wrote was much cited and he himself was greatly revered. He created a new graduate institute, Wolfson College. He was the Ford Visiting Professor at Lowell House, Harvard during the fall of 1962 when I embarked on the PPE program. When he returned to Oxford in the spring, I sought out his lectures.

His lengthy Letters for the years 1960-1975 have been published in a 680-page volume under the title Building by Chatto and Windus at $60, the third volume of his correspondence, with one more anticipated. He writes about his American visit, mentioning his many American friends, like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Ambassador Chip Bohlen. One of his best friends was McGeorge Bundy, who went from Harvard to the Ford Foundation.

There are moments where Berlin was at the center of historical events. On October 16, 1962, Berlin met President Kennedy and his wife. In a letter to his wife Aline, Berlin describes the President as "rather tense". This was the first day of the Cuban missile crisis.

Born on June 6, 1909,  Berlin died on November 5, 1997.

The collection of letters was edited by Henry Hardy (who maintains a website about Berlin) and Mark Pottle. The editing process has apparently been costly. John Banville, in the New York Review of Books on December 19, 2013, writes:
That such a book could be assembled and thereafter handsomely produced by a commercial publisher, is a little light of hope in a dark cultural time.

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