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4.6 out of 5 stars
TheAge of Capital, 1848-1875
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on 21 February 2017
This is a book which has the courage of its author's convictions. Hobsbawm was a Marxist, and remained unrepentant about that throughout his long life, despite the shattering developments of 1989-1991, when the Wall came down, and the USSR collapsed. This book was written at an earlier date, and it assumes that Marx was right - that feudalism had been replaced by capitalism, and that capitalism was destined to be replaced by socialism. Since it dealt with the period 1848-1875, before socialism became a reality, the thesis cannot be invalidated; and it seems to hold good. It certainly fits the mid 19th century better than it did (say) the 17th century in England - despite all the many books written by Christopher Hill to the contrary.

Marx was above all dedicated to the notion of the importance of materialism; and the book reflects this. So, we hear very literal about those titans of political and diplomatic history - Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi in Italy and Bismarck in Germany - nor about Louis Napoleon. Gladstone and Disraeli, nor about Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in the USA. The history is told in terms of steam engines, commodities, mass emigration, and the cultural history of the triumphant bourgeoisie, who remade the whole world in their image.

Hobsbawm might have been expected to concentrate on Great Britain, or Europe, or the USA, which were after all the winners; but in fact the book is refreshing because it is an early example of what has come to be known as World History. We tour the globe, noting the material progress, but also the conflicts this brought about, and the 'downside.'

A truly original work, and not in the least dogmatic, despite the admiration for Marx.
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on 14 September 2010
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.
14 people found this helpful
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on 21 February 2018
a classic
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on 12 September 2015
A superb examination of the period
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on 2 November 2015
Required reading for uni
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on 30 October 2014
All all right!
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on 8 December 2012
I am an engineer by training. I have also been trained as a mathematician.
I never thought a book in history could be written with such precision and
analytical depth. It is irrelevant whether you agree with Eric Hobsbawm's
political sympathies or not, his logical reasoning and the evidence produced
in this book are absolutely compelling. I wish I was taught history in this way
when I was a schoolboy.

I read this book after reading the equally impressive "The age of revolutions".
I was so impressed that I ordered the next three volumes immediately. I was not

A word of warning: These books mostly concentrate on the dynamics of historical
development. They are not narratives of historical events as such. To make best use of
these books the reader must have a rudimentary knowledge of European (and the world)
history. I found the best approach (for me) is to read Hobsbawm's books but refer to
other (perhaps more mundane) sources for the details.

If you want to know why things happened the way they did rather than wanting to know
what happened in history, these books are an excellent starting point.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 July 2014
My judgment on the merit of the book and author is presented with clarity in the subject heading.

The book is the second in a tetralogy covering the period 1789-1991. It follows the Age of Revolution (1789-1848) and precedes the Age of Empire (1875-1914).

I find it appropriate to say a few words on the periods which preceded and followed the period covered in the book in order to place the book in a better context.

The Age of Revolution (1789-1848) deals with the twin revolutions, the French of 1789 which was essentially political and the British industrial revolution which slightly preceded it. The focus of the book is on those two countries and to a certain extent on Europe but not in the remaining world for it had no relevance on it.

The Age of Empire (1875-1914) is an era of new sources of power (electricity and oil, turbines and the internal combustion engine) of new science-based industries, such as the expanding chemical industry.

The era of liberal triumph had been that of a de facto British industrial monopoly internationally.

The post-liberal era was one of international competition between rival national industrial economies - the British, the German, the North American. The world entered the period of Imperialism. An era which marked a new integration of the 'underdeveloped' countries as dependencies, into a world economy dominated by the 'developed' countries.

The Age of Capital (1848-1875) is the era of liberal triumph. Following the defeat of the pan-European revolution of 1848 there ensued an extraordinary and unprecedented economic transformation and expansion in the years between 1848 and the early 1870s with key elements industrialization, capitalism, and international trade and investment. During this period we witness urbanization, increase in world population, mass emigration with the bourgeoisie becoming the dominant class and the creation of the proletariat.

The creation of a single expanded world rendered possible by the evolution of mass communication and transportation was probably the most significant development of this period. The most remote parts of the world were now beginning to be linked together by means of communication which had no precedent for regularity, for the capacity to transport vast quantities of goods and numbers of people and above all, for speed: the railway, the steamship, the telegraph.

Modern technology put any government which did not possess it at the mercy of any government which did.

For half a century after the defeat of Napoleon I there had been only one power which was essentially industrial and capitalist and only one which had a genuinely global policy, i.e. a global navy: Britain.

But between 1848 and 1871, or more precisely during the 1860s, three things happened. First, the expansion of industrialization produced other industrial- capitalist powers besides Britain: the United States, Prussia (Germany) and, to a much greater extent than before, France, later to be joined by Japan. Second, the progress of industrialization increasingly made wealth and industrial capacity the decisive factor in international power; hence devaluing the relative standing of Russia and France, and greatly increasing that of Prussia (Germany). Third, the emergence as independent powers of two extra-European States, the United States (United under the North in the Civil War) and Japan (systematically embarking on modernization with the Meiji Revolution of 1868), created for the first time the possibility of global power conflict.

The capitalist powers at this stage were not particularly interested in occupying and administering countries such as China and Egypt, so long as their citizens were given total freedom to do what they wanted, including extra-territorial privileges.

Science was progressing rapidly and was justifiably confident while Art took the place of traditional religion among the educated and emancipated. This was most evident among German-speaking people, who had come to regard culture as their special monopoly in the days when British had cornered economic, the French political success. Here operas and theaters became temples and cathedrals in which men and women worshiped.

I shall conclude the review with a passage adapted from the book which encapsulates the spirit of the era and the attitude of its dominant peoples and countries: In the Darwinian 'struggle for existence', social and biological thought of the bourgeois world, only the 'fittest' would survive, their fitness certified not only by their survival but by their domination. The greater part of the world's population therefore became the victims of those whose superiority, economic, technological and therefore military, was unquestioned and seemed unchangeable: the economics of north-western and central-Europe and the countries settled by its emigrants abroad, notably the United States.

Book and author had a major impact on me, I intuit that they would have a similar impact on the prospective reader.
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on 4 February 2014
Bought this as am not that happy with the universities course. Okay, he is a Marxist and this comes through in his writings but what he does analytically is amazing. The kindle version does not have certain features like page numbers and x-ray, despite it advertising it as having so.

But as a book fantastic and the kindle version is useful
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on 21 March 2013
Good. No problems in placing the order or receiving the product at home. Good product as well. I recommend it.
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