From Riga to Oxford ~ 1909-1997

Dame Hermione Lee describes her predecessor at Wolfson College...

Isaiah Berlin led a long and remarkable life. He was born in Riga in 1909, and died in Oxford in 1997. In 2009, the centenary of his birth, his successor as President of Wolfson College, Oxford, Dame Hermione Lee, reflected on his polymathic qualities. In addition to being Wolfson's founder president Berlin was: 'the Oxford philosopher and historian of ideas, the European Jewish immigrant and Zionist, the wartime Government employee in the US, the expert on Russian literary and political culture, the music lover, the cosmopolitan socialite, the famous speaker and lecturer, the humanist and liberal, and one of the most idiosyncratic, vigorous, quick witted and interesting intellectuals of his time.' An excellent introduction to Berlin is to be found in Alan Ryan's article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (access is free to users of the IBO).

Centenary Exhibition

Centenary Panels

Dateline Berlin

A consolidated chronology of Berlin's life and times, 1909-1997, will be made accessible here in PDF format.


'Would you like to live for ever? I would.  If somebody said to me that by drinking this drink I would live for ever, if I was guaranteed against acute physical pain [...] I think I would drink. Most people would refuse. All one’s friends would die round one. But I am so consumed with curiosity – what will happen in Russia, what in the Middle East, what, indeed, in this country? – that I am maddened by the thought that the twenty-third century will see me dead' (IB to John Hilton, 14 October 1991).