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Publisher's Summary

This compelling audiobook narrated by Peter Kenny presents Isaiah Berlin's acclaimed essay on Tolstoy and historical understanding.

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This ancient Greek aphorism, preserved in a fragment from the poet Archilochus, describes the central thesis of Isaiah Berlin's masterly essay on Leo Tolstoy and the philosophy of history, the subject of the epilogue to War and Peace. Although there have been many interpretations of the adage, Berlin uses it to mark a fundamental distinction between human beings who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system. Applied to Tolstoy, the saying illuminates a paradox that helps explain his philosophy of history: Tolstoy was a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog. One of Berlin's most celebrated works, this extraordinary essay offers profound insights about Tolstoy, historical understanding, and human psychology.

©1953, 2021 Isaiah Berlin, Henry Hardy, Michael Ignatieff (P)2021 Princeton University Press
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"So entertaining, as well as acute, that the reader hardly notices that it is learned, too." (Arnold Toynbee, Observer)

"[Berlin] has a deep and subtle feeling for the puzzle of Tolstoy's personality, and he writes throughout...with a wonderful eloquence." (William Barrett, New York Times)

"Beautifully written and suggestive." (W. H. Auden, New Yorker)

What listeners say about The Hedgehog and the Fox (Second Edition)

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The Fox Who Tried To Be A Hedgehog

This essay is on one level about Tolstoy’s success in writing War and Peace, and his failure to understand his true nature as a fox — one who know many things but understands there is no grand unified theory that makes sense of all those things. At the end of his life, taking on the trappings of a saint, Tolstoy sought to become a hedgehog, who lives by a fundamental theory that claims an understanding of life that is an idealistic fantasy divorced from everyday reality. For Tolstoy this denial of his true nature did not end well.

On a second level this is a cautionary tale of what goes wrong when people deny their true nature. If you are a fox, it is best to remain a fox and not fall under the spell of hedgehogs who claim to know all the answers.

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