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Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History

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Overview

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus describes the central thesis of Isaiah Berlin's masterly essay on Tolstoy, in which he underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all embracing system. Tolstoy longed for a unitary vision, Sir Isaiah observes, but his marvelous perception of people, things, and the moments of history was so acute

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Overview

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus describes the central thesis of Isaiah Berlin's masterly essay on Tolstoy, in which he underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all embracing system. Tolstoy longed for a unitary vision, Sir Isaiah observes, but his marvelous perception of people, things, and the moments of history was so acute that he could not stop himself from writing as he saw, felt, and understood. He was by nature a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog. Since its first publication in 1953 Sir Isaiah's long essay has acquired the status of a small masterpiece. In its distillation of his profound knowledge of Russian thought and more general political philosophy, The Hedgehog and the Fox is a triumph of erudition and a superb entryway into an understanding of Tolstoy's work. "This little book is so entertaining, as well as acute, that the reader hardly notices that it is learned too."—Arnold Toynbee.

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Editorial Reviews

Reader's Review
Berlin is the paragon interpreter of aspects of the Western cannon.
Reader's Review
"The Hedgehog and the Fox is not only a fine introduction to Tolstoy's work but also that of Berlin himself."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566630191
  • Publisher: Ivan R Dee
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 7.89 (h) x 0.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Sir Isaiah Berlin has spent the whole of his professional life at Oxford, where he is now a Fellow of All Souls College. His many books include Russian Thinkers, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Karl Marx, and Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2004

    A small classic

    This is the perhaps the most famous of all of Berlin's essays . Its division of the world's writers and thinkers into foxes who know many little things, and hedgehogs who know one big thing is used as basis for understanding Tolstoy who so much wanted to be one who understood one big thing, hut really was great at seeing the complexity of reality in so many different things. The feeling while reading this essay is that you are suddenly coming to put in order and understand in a new way the whole Western tradition. But like all great and singular, perhaps hedgehog distinctions this one too throws up many contradictions when one really begins to think about it. This does not prevent its being great and stimulating intellectual fare.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2009

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