Isaiah Berlin: His book on Russian intellectuals is suddenly hot, thanks to Tom Stoppard

Historians in the News

ONE of the hottest books in New York appears on no best-seller list.

“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 bn.com, 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.

“If you were intrigued and wanted to know more, this would be a good place to start,” said Anne Cattaneo, the play’s dramaturge, who compiled the seven-book list. “I tried to keep it to a little George Sand, a little Turgenev.”

As a result, Mr. Berlin’s book is not only all but impossible to find in New York, it is also completely out of stock with its publisher, Penguin, which earlier this month quickly ordered two reprintings totaling 3,500 copies, the first time in 12 years the book has been printed, to satisfy more than 2,000 suddenly unfilled orders.

Before “Coast of Utopia” opened, “Russian Thinkers” sold about 36 copies a month in the whole country, placing it solidly in backlist territory. But late in November, customers began rushing to bookstores in search of the book, “Utopia” playbill in hand (or a Nov. 24 clipping from The New York Times about suggested reading for the play). “There was definitely a run on them,” said Annie Shapiro, a manager at Labyrinth Books on the Upper West Side. “We sold out of what we had immediately.”...
Read entire article at NYT

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