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The Living Truth

The Russian thinker Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) is an elusive figure: just when you think you've got the right idea about him, a central insight, he turns away. In her book 'The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen', Aileen M. Kelly makes a heroic effort to give unity and coherence to Herzen's oeuvre. Correctly seeing Herzen as an anti-systematiser in an age of grand theories and projects, Kelly grounds her subject in the natural sciences. She casts him as a humanist par excellence, who nonetheless started with a fierce interest in science, developing into a Darwinian before Darwin, later taking evolutionary theory to be a paradigm for exploring all that is contingent, messy and disruptive. And yet, argues BRB reviewer Andre van Loon, for all her intellectual brilliance and elective affinity with Herzen, Kelly focusses too much on the brain, often remaining neutral or silent about the heart, in a way her subject certainly did not. But this does not diminish Kelly's achievement: to synthesise Herzen's enormous literary output into various interconnected themes and strains.

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Welcome to The Berlin Review of Books

The Berlin Review of Books aims to publish high-quality reviews of, and insightful essays based on, important recent books published in any language, with a focus on non-fiction. While it will often approach contemporary debates from a European perspective, it is open to intelligent contributions from around the globe. Our goal is to promote honest and knowledgeable debate of issues of real significance; for this reason, we are committed to financial and editorial independence. The Berlin Review of Books does not normally publish fiction or poetry, except by invitation.

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