Better to be Wrong than Right?Roundup: Talking About History
tags: book reviews, Soviet Union, Great Britain, academic life, academic feuds
Walter Laqueur is the author of, among other books, Weimar, A History of Terrorism, Fascism: Past, Present, Future, and The Dream that Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union. His newest book, Optimism in Politics and Other Essays, is due out from Transaction in January.
How many pages of print need be devoted to an event that amounts to no more than a small footnote, if that, in the history of British academic life? In the case of the dueling protagonists of Isaac & Isaiah, a new book by the British historian and novelist David Caute, the unfortunate answer is: quite a few. Luckily, there is much else of inadvertent interest in the story Caute tells.
Both Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) and Isaac Deutscher (1907-1967) were born to Jewish parents in Eastern Europe, but otherwise they had little in common. Berlin, who arrived in England as a schoolboy, eventually became a central and much celebrated figure of the British intellectual and academic establishment and was knighted in 1957. Deutscher, who arrived in his thirties, established himself within a few years as a well-known biographer and political commentator and a self-proclaimed exemplar of the human type known as the “non-Jewish Jew,” a term he may have coined.
Caute presents his chosen pair as the “most influential scholars of cold-war politics.” This is not accurate. Berlin, whose many interests included Russian social and political thought, was not and never claimed to be an expert in Soviet politics—the field that preoccupied Deutscher almost entirely. Nor was Berlin ever a political activist, while Deutscher, by contrast, had been a member of the Polish Communist party, later a Trotskyite, and thereafter a faithful fellow traveler and well-wisher of the Soviet Union. Finally, although Deutscher acquired a remarkable mastery of the English language—in a 1967 review of one of his biographies, I noted not only his forceful style but his unique ability to make his protagonists come alive—whether he was a scholar by inclination or accomplishment has remained a matter of controversy to this day....
comments powered by Disqus
- The History Briefing on the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
- History Says Bloomberg 2020 Would Be a Sure Loser
- Then and now: How Trump impeachment hearing is different
- Poland asks Netflix to make changes to documentary about Nazi death camp guard
- What is a caliph? The Islamic State tries to boost its legitimacy by hijacking a historic institution
- Historian James McPherson Interviewed by the World Socialist Web Site on History of Slavery and NYT's 1619 Project
- Black Perspectives Publishes Online Forum: "Researching, Teaching, and Embodying the Black Diaspora"
- Distinguished professor, civil war historian James I. “Bud” Robertson Jr. passes away
- Noel Ignatiev, scholar who called for abolishing whiteness, dies at 78
- Historians Elizabeth Catte, Rebecca Solnit, and Peniel Joseph Quoted in Washington Post Article, "The Democrats Are Moving Left. Will America Follow?"