The Hedgehog and the Fox


by Isaiah Berlin.Simon & Schuster, $2.50.
This short essay by Isaiah Berlinone of Oxford’s most brilliant dons and perhaps currently its most celebrated personality — re-examines Tolstoy’s view of history and finds in it fresh insights into the novelist’s complex personality. The title comes from the old Creek proverb — “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" — which Berlin uses to draw a distinction between two fundamental human types: those who embrace life in all its multiplicity, whose thought moves on many levels (the foxes); and those who relate everything to a single central vision. Berlin’s thesis is that Tolstoy was by nature a fox, and to the highest degree — therein lies the glory of his novels; but he believed in being a hedgehog, and sought desperately for an inner unifying vision. Consequently his ideals led him to misrepresent his own achievement.
Berlin’s stunning command of the resources of scholarship, his sensitivity to literature and to character, and his eloquence as a writer give this essay the luster of a virtuoso performance.