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This review is from: The Age Of Capital: 1848-1875 (Paperback)
The Age of Capital was originally the second part of a trilogy, flanked by The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848 and The Age of Empire, 1875-1914. Later the series became a tetralogy with the publication of Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991.
Although each book stands up as a volume in it's own right it is very difficult, when finishing one, to not want to continue to find out 'what happens next' even if you know perfectly well what happens. And this is because, even though the books are not narratives in the normal sense of the term, the way Hobsbawm draws out the themes and events of each period really makes you want to find out how he is going to explain subsequent developments.
This volume, like the others in the series, is made up of more-or-less discreet essays on individual aspects of the period under consideration. Each subject is a chapter and the chapters are gathered together into three sections - Part 1: Revolutionary Prelude, Part 2: Developments and Part 3: Results. The chapters in Part 2 include The Great Boom, The World Unified, Conflicts and War, Building Nations, The Forces of Democracy, Losers, Winners and Changing Society. And then in Part 3, he looks at the effects of these developments.
Partly because of this structure but also partly because of the quality of the writing, it is a really interesting and illuminating read. So much of what we are living through today has its seeds in this and the previous period; to make any sense of the world today this is required reading.
There have been some criticism of Hobsbawm for being overtly Marxist in his outlook and theoretical basis. He says himself in his introduction:
"The historian cannot be objective about the period which is his subject. In this he differs (to his intellectual advantage) from its most typical ideologists, who believed that the progress of technology, 'positive science' and society made it possible to view their present with the unanswerable impartiality of the natural scientist, whose methods they believed (mistakenly) to understand. The author of this book cannot conceal a certain distaste, perhaps a certain contempt, for the age with which it deals, though one mitigated by admiration for its titanic material achievements and by the effort to understand even what he does not like. He does not share the nostalgic longing for the certainty, the self-confidence, of the mid-nineteenth-century bourgeois world which tempts many who look back upon it from the crisis-ridden western world a century later. His sympathies lie with those to whom few listened a century ago." (P17)
In the preface to this edition, he expands on these comments:
"This has been read by some as a declaration of intent to be unfair to the Victorian bourgeoisie and the age of its triumph. Since some people are evidently unable to read what is on the page, as distinct from what they think must be there, I would like to say clearly that this is not so. In fact, as at least one reviewer has correctly recognised, bourgeois triumph is not merely the organising principle of the present volume, but 'it is the bourgeoisie who receive much the most sympathetic treatment in the book'. For good or ill, it was their age, and I have tried to present it as such, even at the cost of - at least in this brief period - seeing other classes not so much in their own right, as in relation to it." (P11)
So leave your prejudices and pre-formed opinions at the door and read a remarkably inclusive, erudite and, above all, readable history of this formative period.
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Initial post: 16 Sep 2010 18:42:39 BDT
The Wolf says:
Hello Ms Toast
Your book reviews are always so informative,
coherent and lucid. Thankyou for this.
Tip for the week - Nathaniel Rateliff : 'In Memory Of Loss'.
It is a truly wonderful collection of songs. Give it a try.
Very Best Wishes
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