Spending time in the presence of Sir Isaiah Berlin was daunting for several reasons. Here was a man who was known and admired by a Who's Who of the 20th century: Einstein, Freud, Picasso, Churchill, Nehru. And then there was his conversation, which tumbled forth with amazing rapidity--he was once clocked at 400 words a minute--all of it gargled through the remaining traces of his childhood Latvian. When British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan proposed Berlin for knighthood in 1957, the PM suggested that the honor might be deserved "for talking."

Fortunately, Sir Isaiah in print was more comprehensible than in person....

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