The Crooked Timber of Humanity by Isaiah Berlin

Latvian-born Oxford historian Isaiah Berlin (, and was one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. He was an activist of the intellect who marshalled vast erudition and eloquence in defence of the endangered values of individual liberty and moral and political plurality.

The essays in The Crooked Timber of Humanity expose the links between the ideas of the past and the social and political cataclysms of our own time: between the Platonic belief in absolute truth and the lure of authoritarianism; between the eighteenth-century reactionary ideologue Joseph de Maistre and twentieth-century Fascism; between the romanticism of Schiller and Byron and the militant – and sometimes genocidal – nationalism that convulses the modern world.

In tracing the pedigree of such novel ideals as tolerance, liberty and social equality from the Enlightenment onward, his erudite and brilliant insights throw our century of massive violence into sharp perspective. The title is taken from a well known quotation of Immanuel Kant ( – ‘Out of the Crooked Timber of Humanity no Straight Thing was ever made’.

Originally published: London: John Murray, 1990

384 pages in Pimlico paperback edition

ISBN 978-1845952082

Isaiah Berlin
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