Hatchet Job of the Week
Poor A.N. Wilson had a miserable time with Volume II of Isaiah Berlin’s letters. From the TLS (17/7/09):
“The whole volume … fills the reader with a gloom which was surely not intended by the editors. If the reader, and even more the conscientious reviewer, who has read each page with notebook in hand, feels that the exercise of reading was a waste of time, that only half explains the misery that the exercise provokes. Reading the book, after all, takes only a week. But writing these tedious, infelicitous, prolix letters took fourteen years of a clever man’s life.”
He goes on,
“The letters are not worth the effort required of them. There is not one which comes anywhere near being a good letter, and nearly all of them are thunderingly boring… If these letters had not been published, I should have gone on thinking of Berlin as a very jolly diner out who wrote some delightfully well-turned essays about European thinkers and writers… As it is, the hyperbole of the encomia in The Book of Isaiah, combined with the malicious, snobbish, boastful, cowardly loghorrhoea of the Letters leave a far less pleasing impression.”
Read more reviews of Enlightening: Letters 1946-1960, ed. Henry Hardy, and The Book of Isaiah: Personal Impressions of Isaiah Berlin (also edited by Henry Hardy).