Affirming: Letters 1975-1997 by Isaiah Berlin (Chatto & Windus, £40)
In a letter to Arthur Schlesinger in July 1978, Isaiah Berlin described himself as a “voyeur of history.” The definition seems particularly apt given Berlin’s position as a kind of godfather to 20th-century sceptical liberalism.
Berlin had many interesting ideas to his name. His best, though, was a rejection of the idea of “positive freedom,” which requires state intervention of a kind many liberals would oppose. This and a host of other topics are written about with scrupulous attention to detail in this astounding book of letters—the fourth and final volume taking us up to Berlin’s death in 1997.