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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An incredible panorama of the 20th Century.
The depth and breadth of the author's knowledge and research make this an awesome, if at times heavy, book.
For me, its greatest asset is the way that this book takes familiar elements and weaves them into a coherent whole. The individual portraits presented in this book are detailed in themselves, but when they are portrayed as a single panorama of the twentieth...
Published on 12 Mar 2002 by Rich P

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the other Ages
As other reviews make clear, no book is perfect, and Hobsbawm's not even attempting to hide his love for the Soviet Union during the early part of the book will likely vex the typical reader. The attendant downplaying (though never denial) of Soviet misdeeds and crimes produces a similar reaction. Still, one consults a history book for a presentation and interpretation of...
Published 14 months ago by EnglishLad101


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An incredible panorama of the 20th Century., 12 Mar 2002
This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
The depth and breadth of the author's knowledge and research make this an awesome, if at times heavy, book.
For me, its greatest asset is the way that this book takes familiar elements and weaves them into a coherent whole. The individual portraits presented in this book are detailed in themselves, but when they are portrayed as a single panorama of the twentieth century it is incredible to behold.
This detail is also the book's downside. In those sections where I had too little existing knowledge to build upon I found the prose too dense and anecdotes distracting - but that may say more for my history than the author's prose.
If you are looking for an superficial way to put the events of the twentieth century in context, then this book is not for you. But if what you seek is a way of building and interlinking your existing knowledge of the twentieth century then you will certainly not be disappointed by this amazing book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well argued case, 21 Nov 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
The research which has gone into this book is amazing. The author has lived through almost all of the age he discusses and uses frequent personal anecdotes both to illustrate and provide reason for his views. The book argues a strong case, the central thesis being that the events of the twentieth century are without precedent in their scope and speed, and that their momentum cannot last for the sake of humanity. Although Hobsbawn's political and academic bias is obvious; the long narratives on the Soviet Union and frequent examples using Latin American countries being cases in point, his arguement is both compelling and well researched. An essential read both for those who wish to understand the past, and the increasing numbers, who, given recent events would like an insight into the choices which face us in the future.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and broad discussion of the 20th Century, 21 Mar 2003
This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
This book is most certainly not a book to read if you're looking for a simple 'what happened' of the 20th century, for example it doesn't concern itself with the minutae of the two world wars but deals with the major 'why' questions that concern Historians today.
Hobsbawn makes no apology for his own views, admitting that he would be unable to write a totally impersonal account of a period he lived through, and its certainly true that his leftwing political opinions show through clearly.
What your own opinions may be shouldn't matter though, and you should take a step back and consider the detail and well constructed arguments he makes on topics as diverse as the rise of Totalitarianism in the 1930's and science and technology in the post-war years. For someone with a basic understanding of the 'whats' of the 20th century, this is an extremely interesting way to expand your own knowledge.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the other Ages, 18 May 2013
This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
As other reviews make clear, no book is perfect, and Hobsbawm's not even attempting to hide his love for the Soviet Union during the early part of the book will likely vex the typical reader. The attendant downplaying (though never denial) of Soviet misdeeds and crimes produces a similar reaction. Still, one consults a history book for a presentation and interpretation of the facts, so it is senseless and boorish to write the book off because one does not share an author's ideological sympathies. So enough with the author and let's move to the text.

I guess I would liken it to reading John Lewis Gaddis's 2005 sweep of the Cold War: so readable that its flaws almost don't matter. Don't get me wrong: one would do far, far better to read the chapter on the Cold War in the book under review than wasting time with Gaddis's 2005 offering. For this, and other reasons, I can see why 'Extremes' has a continuing reputation as a good way into the history of the 20th century. And I like the way that Hobsbawm sprinkles interesting little facts and asides throughout his prose.

One nice thing is that he has no time for silly rubbish about Reagan's performance during the latter stages of the Cold War, which is most gratifying, since Reagan was a rather strange fellow. Strange and monstrous. Hobsbawm's analysis of the end of the Soviet Union (arms-related spending) has stood the test of time. Not bad, given 'Extremes' was written so soon after the end of the Cold War that its author partially relies on newspaper articles! Out of the US and USSR, Hobsbawm correctly calls Washington as the greater danger to the world, though in my view this is hardly surprising, given the balance of power.

Anyway, with so many other reviews here, it was really just my intention to mention a few gaps that I am aware have been filled since 'Age of Extremes' was published. The first is on p.41:

"The mystery is," Hobsbawm writes, "why Hitler, already fully stretched in Russia, gratuitously declared war on the USA ... There is no adequate explanation of Hitler's folly, though we know him to have persistently, and dramatically, underestimated the capacity for action, not to mention the economic and technological potential, of the USA because he thought democracies incapable of action. The only democracy he took seriously was the British, which he rightly regarded as not entirely democratic."

The mystery has been solved, we now have the (more than) adequate explanation of Hitler's follies, which had nothing to do with underestimating the United States. Indeed, quite the opposite. I direct you, without spoiling the story, to Adam Tooze's simply outstanding 'The Wages of Destruction' (2006).

Another thing, and again Hosbawm can't be faulted since this information came out after he wrote it, is that the book doesn't emphasise enough how unbelievably lucky humanity was to have survived the Cuban Missile Crisis. We are here today by sheer, sheer luck. "We lucked out", in McNamara's words. You can read Thomas Blanton's review of these developments in his introduction ("The Cuban Missile Crisis Isn't What It Used to Be") in CWIHP 'Bulletin', Issue 17/18, "The Global Cuban Missile Crisis at 50," pp.11-18. Just slap it into Google and download the pdf for free. You may need to be patient while it opens, but it DOES eventually open, I promise!

OK bit more: EJHobs doesn't emphasise enough the game-changing potential of what happened in the Middle East in 1958, and what it nearly led to. It was recognised fully by US officials at the time: 1958 could have been 'it' for the Western powers in the Middle East. If you have an understanding of the linchpin of postwar American power, that is really pretty serious stuff. Here's CIA Director Allen Dulles on the immediate aftermath of the coup: "If the Iraq coup succeeds it seems almost inevitable that it will set up a chain reaction which will doom the pro-West governments of Lebanon and Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and raise grave problems for Turkey and Iran." Perhaps it's just the case that a single-volume take doesn't have room, but I'll still say it deserved more attention.

I don't know at which point contending that the USSR was originally aiming for multi-party democracies in its Eastern European buffer of puppet states became untenable, but the contention in 'Extremes' that this was so is untenable. Similarly, the well-known communist myth of the communist role in the Spanish civil war is given an (admittedly equivocal) airing.

Another standard communist line that Hobsbawm pedals is on p.238, namely that "[t]he USA planned military intervention if they [the communists] won the 1948 elections in Italy." (It's mentioned more explicitly by Vladimir Pechatnov in Volume I of this: "Fearing US military intervention in Italy, Moscow cautioned Italian Communists against trying to take power through armed insurrection.") This, again, is untenable. After reviewing the effects of World War II on Italy, Gabriel Kolko points out (p.305, 307 of 'Century of War') that "[t]he subsequent Communist rationalization that the existence of of Anglo-American armies precluded their taking power merely unconvincingly obfuscates the true reasons for their failures to do so", which were the threat of "losing absolute mastery of their parties' organizations", "to prevent the enormous numbers who enrolled from acting autonomously of the Party line". As with better-known equivalents like the Spanish Civil War, the communists' tired justifications of their efforts to immobilise the genuinely democratic dynamics that WWII facilitated just don't wash.

Still, Hobsbawm is not exactly the first to fail to extricate his history-writing from personal commitments. Yes, and so the strangest thing for me in the whole book, given Hobs's freedom from nationalism and the worship of liberal democracy and its leaders, is that he doesn't seem to deploy a basic feature of US policy in his analysis of it - namely CONTROL of oil reserves, not simply securing access to oil supplies. There is a crucially important distinction between those two things, and one's grasp of the post-WWII period is hobbled without being aware of it and taking account of it. I can understand why liberal scholars aren't interested in the Anglo-American quest for control of oil, but it is weird that Hobsbawm, someone who knew so much, who rightly takes account of the economic considerations of 20th-century history more generally, wouldn't or couldn't accept this fairly straightforward and wholly undeniable feature of Western policy. Anyway, given his failure to understand or whatever on this point, the late professor is puzzled as to why the US supported the Israelis in 1973 ("The US believed - one does not quite see why - that its own vital interests were at stake", p.245). As Hobsbawm will have known full well, people like Noam Chomsky have been documenting Israel's role within the US's oil-centred Middle East strategy for many decades now. Strange.

[Talking of America and oil, might be interested in a free issue of 'Journal of American History' from last year (obviously change the @ to a . ):

journalofamericanhistory@org/issues/991/

David Painter's article comes highly recommended!]

In Vietnam (pp.244-5): "Why the USA came to embroil itself in a doomed war, against which both its allies, neutrals, and even the USSR had warned it, is almost impossible to understand, except as part of that dense cloud of incomprehension, confusion and paranoia through which the main actors in the Cold War tapped their way." This just isn't good enough. There are solid accounts of why the Americans went into Vietnam that go beyond vague terms like "incomprehension, confusion and paranoia."

This series of unknowns and misunderstandings does not really satisfy the reader. Some of it, as I said, is because this book is almost 20 years old, and historical understanding moves on thanks to new and better analyses, and new sources becoming available. Some of it, I'm afraid, can only be put down to the fact that, for whatever reason, Hobsbawm's handle on the short 20th just wasn't as good as that on its longer predecessor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars heavy going, 15 May 2013
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This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
Hobsbaum is a bit daunting and this is a huge tome bursting with facts and rather over whelming .It is on the edge of being indigestible.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read ..., 14 July 2004
This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
I recommend this book to everyone who wishes to understand (or at least begin to do so) the 20th century... In my opinion, that is an imperative, because if we don't understand our past, we won't be able to see our present clearly, and we will also be deprived from a good perspective regarding our future. As Hobsbwam says, things "can only be understood as part of a particular historical context".
In "The Age of Extremes", Hobsbawm's explains us his idea that the 20th century began in 1914 (with the outbreak of World WarI), and ended in 1991 (with the collapse of the USSR). That is the reason why he calls it "the short century". He divides that "short century" in three parts: an age of catastrophe (from 1914 to the end of World War II), a golden age (1947 - 1973) and the Landslide (1973 - 1991).
Hobsbawm not only delves into politics, but also into economics, technology, and art, all with a profound knowledge of the subject and a caustic wit that I find irresistible.
Yes, of course that there are a lot of history books regarding the 20th century. As a matter of fact, I've read many of them... But this is still my favorite, because it manages to both interesting and clear, entertaining and useful
On the whole, highly recommended :)
Belen Alcat
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5.0 out of 5 stars An illuminating perspective of a turbulent century, 23 Feb 2014
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Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
I came across Eric Hobsbawm while reading a book by another eminent historian, Tony Judt. I must have been sufficiently impressed with what I read about him for I retained him in my memory and identified his name a little later on reading an obituary on his death, in 2012 at the age of 95, in 'The Economist'.

On reading the book, the image emanating for its author was one of prodigious intellect, phenomenal erudition with truly global reach, multifaceted, multilingual, and humane.

Whatever individual items of knowledge I possessed on the twentieth century, these coalesced, cohered, and became an integrated and convincing whole.

Similarly intertwined, mutually interacting, and co evolving - but without a trace of historic determinism - became the topics he treated: world wars - hot or cold - revolutions, the varying approaches to the economy, the First, Second, and Third world, demographic change and urbanization, society and culture, the arts, the environment and its discontents, and science and technology.

The book was written in 1994 but it has not lost its sparkle and is as pertinent to-day as it was then.

The problems that haunted humanity at the end of the millennium namely poverty, mass unemployment, violence, violent political change, wealth inequality, and the specter of ecological disaster are haunting humanity to-day but with the important difference that they are much more acute.

The author at the end of the book observes that the major political problems in the approaching millennium is not how to multiply the wealth of nations, but how to distribute it for the benefit of their inhabitants. Social distribution and not growth would dominate the politics of the new millennium.

And he concludes: we have reached a point of historic crisis. Who would presently disagree?
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Either too much or too little for readability, 28 Jun 2007
By 
Jm Leven (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
Whatever its merits, and they are undoubtedly many, for someone who knows little history this book would, most charitably, not be a great place to start - so this review is really intended for those looking to get (or refresh) the gist of 20C history with the minimum reading.
While Hobsbawm manages to get nearly everything in, he does so at the expense of readability. He can write very engagingly, but here he seems to have just too much material to impose his charm on - it would have been better as a shorter, more focused, argument or alternatively it might have been better as 2 or 3 books.
Hobsbawm was a Marxist who, like so many others, seemed to be disorientated by the fall of the Soviet union - he became a 'Eurocommunist', a near-meaningless euphemism for a fashion amongst lefties for post-modernist waffle (not Hobsbawm, thankfully) and accommodation with capitalism. He was part of the the 'Marxism Today' clique that had strong links with the milieu that gave us New Labour. Recently he seems to have found his bearings again, and repented some of the positions he supported in the 90s, but his doubts show in this work - it lacks the force of conviction. But at least his apostasy didn't stretch to an outright conversion to Thatcherism and now neoliberalism like another one-time lefty writer Paul Johnson; he gives a reasonably balanced account; too balanced! - his impartial, third-person precis of everything and anything makes for a read about as entertaining as a telephone directory.
Paul Johnson's 'Modern times' (up to maybe 1960 and no further ,and providing you are aware of his bias, especially in his introduction) is a much more serviceable quick overview - they say nobody is more fanatical than a convert, and Johnson's zeal for Thatcherism is embarrassing in his account of post 1955 so I recommend stopping at the era of decolonialisation - the'Bandung generation'is quite a handy chapter - and using Hobsbawm for anything later, and the earlier part of Hobsbawm for a check and further details. Johnson is a compelling and entertaining writer (like Schama often because he doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story, but pre-1955 he is not too bad here, except of course for downplaying US aggression, which strangely Hobsbawm does too); Hobsbawm is more scrupulous but whatever gift he has for storytelling (and I usually find that considerable) is missing from 'the Age of Extremes
A big omission in Hobsbawm's work is that the USA, the most powerful and influential nation of the 20th century, does not get nearly enough attention, maybe because it's too big a story. So I recommend Hugh Brogan's Penguin (one-time Longman) History of the USA - very readable and widely praised, notably by Gore Vidal for Brogan's account of the origins of the Vietnam war. I also recommend Noam Chomsky's 'World Orders Old and New' and (especially) Michael Parenti's 'Blackshirts and Reds' to give you a correct perspective on all the above and the bare minimum necessary grasp of modern times.
But I suspect most people will buy Age of Extremes because of its reputation, read a bit of it, and mean to finish it but never seem to get around to picking it up again. I did read about 4/5ths of it. I've been meaning to finish it for 5 years (and I've read effortlessly many books covering parts of the picture in that time), so as I said I recommend starting Age of Extremes post c1955 and using Johnson(with one eye open) for the earlier period, and using the rest of Age of Extremes for a reference or second opinion, and using Parenti and Chomsky as a last word.
For those who are already well familiar with the gist of 20C history, the most useful part of Age of Extremes may be Hobsbawm's sources and lists of books for further reading.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Either too much or too little for readability, 25 July 2007
By 
Jm Leven (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
Whatever its merits, and they are undoubtedly many, for someone who knows little history this book would, most charitably, not be a great place to start - so this review is really intended for those looking to get (or refresh) the gist of 20C history with the minimum reading.
While Hobsbawm manages to get nearly everything in, he does so at the expense of readability. He can write very engagingly, but here he seems to have just too much material to impose his charm on - it would have been better as a shorter, more focused, argument or alternatively it might have been better as 2 or 3 books.
Hobsbawm was a Marxist who, like so many others, seemed to be disorientated by the fall of the Soviet union - he became a 'Eurocommunist', a near-meaningless euphemism for a fashion amongst lefties for post-modernist waffle (not Hobsbawm, thankfully) and accommodation with capitalism. He was part of the the 'Marxism Today' clique that had strong links with the milieu that gave us New Labour. Recently he seems to have found his bearings again, and repented some of the positions he supported in the 90s, but his doubts show in this work - it lacks the force of conviction. But at least his apostasy didn't stretch to an outright conversion to Thatcherism and now neoliberalism like another one-time lefty writer Paul Johnson; he gives a reasonably balanced account; too balanced! - his impartial, third-person precis of everything and anything makes for a read about as entertaining as a telephone directory.
Paul Johnson's 'Modern times' (up to maybe 1960 and no further ,and providing you are aware of his bias, especially in his introduction) is a much more serviceable quick overview - they say nobody is more fanatical than a convert, and Johnson's zeal for Thatcherism is embarrassing in his account of post 1955 so I recommend stopping at the era of decolonialisation - the'Bandung generation'is quite a handy chapter - and using Hobsbawm for anything later, and the earlier part of Hobsbawm for a check and further details. Johnson is a compelling and entertaining writer (like Schama often because he doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story, but pre-1955 he is not too bad here, except of course for downplaying US aggression, which strangely Hobsbawm does too); Hobsbawm is more scrupulous but whatever gift he has for storytelling (and I usually find that considerable) is missing from 'the Age of Extremes
A big omission in Hobsbawm's work is that the USA, the most powerful and influential nation of the 20th century, does not get nearly enough attention, maybe because it's too big a story. So I recommend Hugh Brogan's Penguin (one-time Longman) History of the USA - very readable and widely praised, notably by Gore Vidal for Brogan's account of the origins of the Vietnam war. I also recommend Noam Chomsky's 'World Orders Old and New' and (especially) Michael Parenti's 'Blackshirts and Reds' to give you a correct perspective on all the above and the bare minimum necessary grasp of modern times.
But I suspect most people will buy Age of Extremes because of its reputation, read a bit of it, and mean to finish it but never seem to get around to picking it up again. I did read about 4/5ths of it. I've been meaning to finish it for 5 years (and I've read effortlessly many books covering parts of the picture in that time), so as I said I recommend starting Age of Extremes post c1955 and using Johnson(with one eye open) for the earlier period, and using the rest of Age of Extremes for a reference or second opinion, and using Parenti and Chomsky as a last word.
For those who are already well familiar with the gist of 20C history, the most useful part of Age of Extremes may be Hobsbawm's sources and lists of books for further reading.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Big, 20 Mar 2000
By 
Mr. A. Pomeroy (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (Paperback)
An enormous, thick book which takes as its subject the entire scope of history from 1914 to 1992, this is the last of Eric Hobsbawm's 'Age' series.
Inevitably, bits get missed. 'Pop culture' is ignored in favour of 'high art', and the book seems to concentrate rather too much on the rise and fall of Communism - it's a topic often overlooked in history books, and for a time the majority of humanity was Communist, but Hobsbawm seems to have gone to the other extreme in compensation.
Nonetheless, when Hobsbawm concentrates on non-ideological matters the book works - the descriptions of World War One are striking, and the theme that governments spent lots of time and money killing their own populations is obvious but striking.
As an interesting contrast, read P J O'Rourke's 'Holidays in Hell' at the same time.
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Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm (Paperback - 12 Oct 1995)
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