Age of Extremes The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 Paperback – 1994
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
"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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not as good as expected. Felt like a series of very superficial essays. If there was an overarching theme I looked for it in vain. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Miketang
Published by Michael Joseph in 1991. Note that the 'fall' of the Jewish USSR is officially dated December 1991. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Rerevisionist
Hobsbawm is considered by many to be a pioneer of modern British history. However, it is difficult to attribute too much to his person considering his very obvious links with the... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Dommy