Eric Hobsbawm

Eric Hobsbawm, who died on 1 October 2012 at the age of 95, was one of the foremost historians of the 20th century. His many books include a three-part study of the ‘long 19th century’ (The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital and The Age of Empire), Age of Extremes: The Short 20th Century and a memoir, Interesting Times.

After the Cold War: Tony Judt

Eric Hobsbawm, 26 April 2012

My relations with Tony Judt date back a long time but they were curiously contradictory. We were friends, though not intimate ones, and while both of us were politically committed historians, and both preferred wearing informal gear as historians rather than regimental uniform, we marched to different drummers. Nevertheless our intellectual interests had something in common. Both of us knew that the 20th century can only be understood fully by those who became historians because they lived through it and shared its basic passion.

This is an unusual and illuminating contribution to the literature on Soviet espionage that has become part of Anglo-Saxon folklore. All the more so as it is written from the point of view of the spies rather than their hunters. It is about four people: the author, a retired biochemist of distinction, and the ‘three parents’ whose times shaped his life. They were Hilde, or...

San Nicandro Garganico is a modest agrarian township of some 16,000 inhabitants on the edge of the spur of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. It has been somewhat bypassed by Italy’s postwar development and has never been on the tourist circuit, or indeed had anything about it that might attract outsiders. The railway didn’t even reach it until 1931. To judge by the photo in the current Italian Wikipedia entry, it looks pretty much the same as it did in 1957, when I visited it, curious about the subject on which John Davis has now given us a first-rate, concise and attractively written book. San Nicandro has made only two entrances onto the historical stage. It was an early centre of Italian socialism and agrarian struggle in the grain-fields of northern Apulia, whose local political head, Domenico Fioritto, became its deputy and subsequently leader of the Italian Socialist Party. The former Communist Party (now the Democratic Party) continues to supply its mayor. The second appearance of the town in the wider world was less relevant to Italian politics, but globally more prominent, though the postwar headlines would soon be forgotten. It linked the town to a group of local peasants who decided in the 1930s to convert to Judaism and eventually emigrated to Israel. John Davis has not only rescued the ‘Jews of San Nicandro’ from more than a half-century of oblivion, but used them to illuminate 20th-century Europe’s extraordinary history.

Diary: My Days as a Jazz Critic

Eric Hobsbawm, 27 May 2010

I enjoyed the company of the players, and they accepted me as an oddity on the scene (no milieu is more tolerant than that of jazz musicians), sometimes as the sort of walking reference book who could answer (non-musical) queries. I remember one from a tenor player’s girlfriend, about whether it was right to believe in God. But could any non-musician understand what creative musicians are really about, however much he socialised with them? After all, as one of them told me (I think it was the tenor saxophonist Sonny Stitt), ‘words are not my instrument.’

Poker Face: Palmiro Togliatti

Eric Hobsbawm, 8 April 2010

The history of the 20th-century Communist movements that never acquired state power has been overshadowed by the extraordinary story of the rise and fall or self-transformation of the regimes inspired by the October Revolution. Within little more than 30 years of Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station, Russia had become a superpower, and one third of humanity was ruled by Communist...

Indomitable: Marx and Hobsbawm

Terry Eagleton, 3 March 2011

In 1976, a good many people in the West thought that Marxism had a reasonable case to argue. By 1986, most of them no longer felt that way. What had happened in the meanwhile? Were these people...

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The Age of EJH: Eric Hobsbawm’s Memoirs

Perry Anderson, 3 October 2002

What apter practitioners of autobiography than historians? Trained to examine the past with an impartial eye, alert to oddities of context and artifices of narrative, they would appear to be the...

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Contra Mundum

Edward Said, 9 March 1995

A powerful and unsettling book, Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes brings to a close the series of historical studies he began in 1962 with The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848, and...

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Where will this voyage end?

Neal Ascherson, 14 June 1990

Historians as a tribe are suckers for anniversaries, no less than journalists. And both professions are equally unwilling to leave a nice, juicy coincidence alone, in the spirit of that...

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Hobsbawm Today

Ross McKibbin, 22 June 1989

Eric Hobsbawm is one of Britain’s most creative Marxist historians. Anyone who teaches at a school or university is aware of the effect of his writing, even on those who do not know from...

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History and the Left

Jonathan Haslam, 4 April 1985

In 1977 E.H. Carr completed his 14-volume History of Soviet Russia. He had embarked on an intellectual day excursion but found himself on a major expedition through a dark continent of knowledge....

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Norman Stone, 21 July 1983

One of Arnold Toynbee’s Laws was that, in any civilisation, mannered imitation of the past was a Bad Thing: he chose the Poles’ decision to reconstruct the Old City of Warsaw after...

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Jon Elster, 18 March 1982

Up to a fairly recent time it was the case that all good books on Marx were hostile, or at most neutral. Correlatively, all the books that espoused Marx’s views did so in a way that could...

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On the State of the Left

W.G. Runciman, 17 December 1981

Ever since the Industrial Revolution and the first stirrings of socialist political theory, the intellectual protagonists of the Left have started with a twofold debating advantage over their...

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