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

by Isaiah Berlin

Paper Book, 1953

Status

Available

Publication

New York: Simon & Schuster [1953]

Description

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This ancient Greek aphorism, preserved in a fragment from the poet Archilochus, describes the central thesis of Isaiah Berlin's masterly essay on Leo Tolstoy and the philosophy of history, the subject of the epilogue to War and Peace. Although there have been many interpretations of the adage, Berlin uses it to mark a fundamental distinction between human beings who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system. Applied to Tolstoy, the saying illuminates a paradox that helps explain his philosophy of history: Tolstoy was a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog. One of Berlin's most celebrated works, this extraordinary essay offers profound insights about Tolstoy, historical understanding, and human psychology. This new edition features a revised text that supplants all previous versions, English translations of the many passages in foreign languages, a new foreword in which Berlin biographer Michael Ignatieff explains the enduring appeal of Berlin's essay, and a new appendix that provides rich context, including excerpts from reviews and Berlin's letters, as well as a startling new interpretation of Archilochus's epigram.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member eachurch
Fascinating exploration of two ways of approaching history, and how Tolstoy's actual view differed from the view he thought he should have.
LibraryThing member aitastaes
Isaiah Berlin's classic essay on Tolstoy - an exciting new edition with new criticism and a foreword. 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.' This fragment of Archilochus, which gives this book its title, describes the central thesis of Isaiah Berlin's masterly essay on Tolstoy. There have been various interpretations of Archilochus' fragment; Isaiah Berlin has simply used it, without implying anything about the true meaning of the words, to outline a fundamental distinction that exists in mankind, between those who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things (foxes) and those who relate everything to a central all-embracing system (hedgehogs). When applied to Tolstoy, the image illuminates a paradox of his philosophy of history, and shows why he was frequently misunderstood by his contemporaries and critics. Tolstoy was by nature a fox, but he believed in being a hedgehog.… (more)

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Barcode

8071
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