Friday, January 26, 2007

Russian Thinkers

The New York Times about Isaiah Berlin's Russian Thinkers:

“Russian Thinkers,” a 1978 collection of essays on 19th-century Russian intellectuals by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, has virtually disappeared from bookstores across the city, including Barnes & Noble, Labyrinth Books and Shakespeare & Company. The Internet is not much help either: the book is sold out on, and though it can be ordered from Amazon, the order won’t be shipped for two or three weeks.

The culprit behind this Berlin craze turns out to be none other than Tom Stoppard and his epic three-part play, “The Coast of Utopia,” which opened at Lincoln Center on Nov. 27. Tucked deep inside the show’s playbill is a list titled “For Audience Members Interested in Further Reading,” with “Russian Thinkers” at the top.

I raved about the book a few times too on this blog ever since I read it last September. It was the best non-fiction book I read last year or perhaps one of the best collection of biographical and historical essays ever (not that I have read a lot but still). This is another nice article about the historical background of the Tom Stoppard play.

I read another book some time back titledViews from the Other Shore: Essays on Herzen, Chekhov and Bakhtin by Aileen Kelly, who also wrote an excellent forward to Russian Thinkers, which was quite good too. The Chekhov and Bakhtin essays are great introductions whereas many of Herzen essays left me stumped because it referenced Hegel a little too much. Though after reading I can now distinguish a left Hegelian from a right Hegelian! (Just in case someone is curious, I am neither, I am not a Hegelian! hehe!)

By the way, if you are an expert, you can help the editor prepare a new edition of Berlin's book. He is trying to identify the sources of a few quotations. Here is the list. (Though for some reason "rational" is spelled as "national" in few of the quotes!)

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