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Age of Extremes The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 Paperback – 1994

3.9 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Paperback, 1994
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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: michael joseph (1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0718133072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718133078
  • ASIN: B001NDDUN2
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,180,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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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By A Customer on 21 Nov. 2001
Format: 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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Format: 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. 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.
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Format: 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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Format: Paperback
This book is the final instalment in a four volume series concerned with exploring and understanding the history of modern society. Hobsbawn presents these volumes as a series of ‘ages’ – beginning with “The Age of Revolution”, then “The Age of Capital”, followed by “The Age of Empire”, and concluding with “Age of Extremes”. Collectively, the historical emergence and subsequent development of capitalism is outlined and analysed. Such an endeavour is certainly challenging – and is uncommon within the study of history (as most academic historians focus on a much narrower field of investigation, rather than seeking to engage with a social formation in its entirety). What make this book, and the series as whole, even more unconventional is that the author adopts a Marxist approach, grounding his analysis on Marx’s materialist conception of history.

"Age of Extremes" deals with that period of time Hobsbawn refers to as 'the short twentieth century' - from 1914 to 1991. As such, he starts by focussing on the outbreak of World War One and he eventually arrives at the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was a century of extremism - most notably, involving the rise and fall of both fascism and Communism. Hobsbawn separates his analysis into three main parts: First, he explores the catastrophes of 1914-45, which he sums-up as an 'age of total war' (including not just the two world wars but also several local wars - e.g. the Spanish Civil War - as well as intense class war, culminating in the global economic collapse of 1929-31). Second, he examines the 'golden age' of stability in the initial decades following 1945, involving social and cultural reform.
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