From Riga to Oxford ~ 1909-1997

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

In 2009, with the 50th Anniversary of the foundation of Wolfson College on the horizon, Dame Hermione Lee, President of Wolfson 2008-17, reflected on the College's Founding President, Sir Isaiah Berlin. She captured the essence of his character, describing him as: '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.'

Alan Ryan's article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the best concise biography of Berlin, and it can be accessed free through this link. Berlin's life is further examined in the six chronologically-ordered sections below.

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).