How many pages of print need be devoted to an event that amounts to no more than a small footnote, if that, in the history of British academic life? In the case of the dueling protagonists of Isaac & Isaiah, a new book by the British historian and novelist David Caute, the unfortunate answer is: quite a few. Luckily, there is much else of inadvertent interest in the story Caute tells.
Both Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) and Isaac Deutscher (1907-1967) were born to Jewish parents in Eastern Europe, but otherwise they had little in common. Berlin, who arrived in England as a schoolboy, eventually became a central and much celebrated figure of the British intellectual and academic establishment and was knighted in 1957. Deutscher, who arrived in his thirties, established himself within a few years as a well-known biographer and political commentator and a self-proclaimed exemplar of the human type known as the “non-Jewish Jew,” a term he may have coined.
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