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on 22 July 2017
The usual Hobsbawn thoroughness.. Very enlightening.
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on 28 February 2011
This is the third in a series of four. The series consists of 'The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848', 'The Age of Capital, 1848-75', 'The Age of Empire, 1875-1914' (this volume) and finally, 'Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991', the latter being added to the series after a considerable gap.

They all follow basically the same format but, unlike the other three volumes, this one is not divided up into three sections. Instead, we have a short 'Overture', then the main body of the volume and finally an 'Epilogue'. The main body is divided up into discreet essays, each exploring a specific theme of the era. So, for example, there is a chapter on 'The Politics of Democracy' looking at the fall-out from the Paris Commune of 1871 in which Hobsbawm suggests that 'it became increasingly clear that the democratization of the politics of the state was quite inevitable. The masses would march on to the stage of politics, whether rulers liked it or not'. (P85)

The following section, 'Workers of the World', charts the growth, not only of the proletariat and organised labour and the accelerating move away from an agrarian economy, but also the development of 'tertiary workers' - those in offices, shops and new services.

'Waving Flags: Nations and Nationalism' considers the rise of nationalism in politics. Although nationalism as an idea had been around for a while, '...the word 'nationalism' itself first appeared at the end of the nineteenth century to describe groups of right-wing ideologists in France and Italy, keen to brandish the national flag against foreigners, liberals and socialists in favour of that aggressive expansion of their own state which was to become so characteristic of such movements.' (P142)

The great thing about Hobsbawm's histories is that he never stops there, never just looks at political movements, marching armies and the like, but delves deeper to give you a real feel of the era under examination. So the following sections include 'Who's Who or the Uncertainties of the Bourgeoisie', 'The New Woman', 'The Arts Transformed', 'Certainties Undermined: The Sciences', 'Reason and Society', 'Towards Revolution,' and 'From Peace to War'.

Of course, this is the period leading up to the First World War and so I suppose that there is inevitably a feeling of foreboding and gloomy expectation, but Hobsbawm points out that this was also for many people the 'Belle Epoque', a golden age for arts, literature and science - Proust, Henry James, the young J M Keynes, Picasso. It was, though, also the age of Freud, Nietzsche and Lenin and the times also felt the growing influence of Darwin, Marx, Wagner et al. It was, underneath, a time of experimentation and questioning of received values in all fields. As Hobsbawm summarises:

'Since August 1914 we have lived in the world of monstrous wars, upheavals and explosions which Nietzsche prophetically announced. That is what has surrounded the era before 1914 with the retrospective haze of nostalgia, a faintly golden age of order and peace, of unproblematic prospects. Such back projections of imaginary good old days belong to the history of the last decades of the twentieth century, not the first. Historians of the days before the lights went out are not concerned with them. Their central preoccupation, and the one which runs through the present book, must be to understand and to show how the era of peace, of confident bourgeois civilisation, growing wealth and western empires inevitably carried within itself the embryo of the era of war, revolution and crisis which put an end to it.' (P327)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 August 2016
This book is the third 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.

"The Age of Empire" is concerned with the period 1875-1914, and addresses the social, economic and political consequences of the transition from free-market, laissez-faire liberalism towards monopoly capitalism and imperialism. The primary focus is on the countries of the western world - and how they divided-up and increasing fought over the territories of the rest of world. And so the leading nations - especially Britain, France, Russia and Germany - build their empires ... and head inextricably towards war. For Hobsbawn, these developments were bound-up with the long-waves of capitalist development, with nation-states becoming increasingly tied to the interests of big business (and, in consequence, each State sought to defend and advance the particular economic interests). Alongside all of this, the working classes of Europe began to organise - and headed in the direction of revolution.

This is a well-written book, which explores a highly fascinating period of time. Indeed, the events dealt with in this book are directly responsible for the formation of the world we know today ... This book is intended for both students and the more general interested reader. It's presented in a clear and accessible manner.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 August 2016
This book is the third 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.

"The Age of Empire" is concerned with the period 1875-1914, and addresses the social, economic and political consequences of the transition from free-market, laissez-faire liberalism towards monopoly capitalism and imperialism. The primary focus is on the countries of the western world - and how they divided-up and increasing fought over the territories of the rest of world. And so the leading nations - especially Britain, France, Russia and Germany - build their empires ... and head inextricably towards war. For Hobsbawn, these developments were bound-up with the long-waves of capitalist development, with nation-states becoming increasingly tied to the interests of big business (and, in consequence, each State sought to defend and advance the particular economic interests). Alongside all of this, the working classes of Europe began to organise - and headed in the direction of revolution.

This is a well-written book, which explores a highly fascinating period of time. Indeed, the events dealt with in this book are directly responsible for the formation of the world we know today ... This book is intended for both students and the more general interested reader. It's presented in a clear and accessible manner.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 June 2016
This book is the third 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.

"The Age of Empire" is concerned with the period 1875-1914, and addresses the social, economic and political consequences of the transition from free-market, laissez-faire liberalism towards monopoly capitalism and imperialism. The primary focus is on the countries of the western world - and how they divided-up and increasing fought over the territories of the rest of world. And so the leading nations - especially Britain, France, Russia and Germany - build their empires ... and head inextricably towards war. For Hobsbawn, these developments were bound-up with the long-waves of capitalist development, with nation-states becoming increasingly tied to the interests of big business (and, in consequence, each State sought to defend and advance the particular economic interests). Alongside all of this, the working classes of Europe began to organise - and headed in the direction of revolution.

This is a well-written book, which explores a highly fascinating period of time. Indeed, the events dealt with in this book are directly responsible for the formation of the world we know today ... This book is intended for both students and the more general interested reader. It's presented in a clear and accessible manner.
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on 22 August 2000
Eric Hobsbawm's The Age of Empire is one of the books which forms a four volume history of the world over the two centuries since the French Revolution: The Age of Revolution (1789-1848), The Age of Capital (1848-75), The Age of Empire (1875-1914), and The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century (1914-91). The Age of Empire (1875-1914) is exactly what the title suggests: a factual and real representation of the dynamics of the construction of empire. He concentrates primarily on technology, nationalism, imperialism, and revolution covering the era of Western imperialism in a remarkable and outstanding fashion, examining the forces that ultimately led to the outbreak of the First World War, and shaped the world we live in today. He provides the reader with a greater understanding of the political, social, and economic issues during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, highlighting how the era was just as much an era of opportunity as it was an era of hardship. In doing so, he looks at the transformation brought about by capitalism and how it affected various areas of life in an age dominated by the construction of empire. The Age of Empire has a clear and precise form of structural demarcation; each chapter follows on from the previous chapter, enhancing the overall argument. In some ways Hobsbawm's preference for phrase-making clouds our judgement of what people felt at the time. But, nevertheless, his dramatic sense of sweep and structure is quite unmatched. Hobsbawm himself delineates in the preface that The Age of Empire is a "history of different states, of politics, of the economy, of culture or whatever" (Preface: xi). These previously differentiated aspects are clearly portrayed in the book in such a way the reader gains an insight into the remarkable sense of vigour and enthusiasm with which Hobsbawm wrote The Age of Empire. Not only does he concentrate on each aspect individually, dividing the book into specific chapters, he clearly depicts how culture, politics, society, and economics are intrinsically linked. In one case he stresses that as an explanation for the growth of the colonial empire "political and economic elements were no longer clearly separable" (p.59). Clearly, then, Hobsbawm's Age of Empire is a general historical account of the years 1875-1914. Hobsbawm has endeavoured to amalgamate a variety of different aspects such as political, economic, and social history into one volume providing the reader with an all-embracing view. However, one cannot help but notice the clear Marxist undertone prevalent throughout, as shown by the fact that class and class consciousness (and conflict) are a powerful and recurrent theme. Not only this, but capitalism appears to be heavily criticised, as Hobsbawm makes reference to how it is not only schizophrenic in nature, rendering it inadequate, it has also led to the exploitation backward regions of the world. Also, Hobsbawm views the origins of the new imperialism from a Leninist angle arguing that imperialism during The Age of Empire had economic roots in a specific new phase of capitalism, which led to the division of the world and ultimately to the First World War. He claims that colonialism is "a by-product of political-economic rivalry between competing national economies" (Find reference). In doing so, he dismisses any other explanation in a sweeping statement claiming that no further discussion on the anti-Leninist approach is needed because they have "obscured the subject" (p.61). Similarly, his strong criticisms concerning the politics of democracy highlights his political persuasion. He claims that it was not a democratic world because the elites always exploited the working class. Not only this, he views democracy as a failure as shown by the concurrent exclusion and riots, brought about by its inefficiency, fragile, and non-permanent nature. Putting Hobsbawm's political persuasion aside, The Age of Empire, despite being Marxist in character, provides both the Marxist and non-Marxist reader with a detailed and somewhat accurate description of the transformations that occurred, even if the origins and reasons for them are riddled with ambiguities and open to debate. However, one must take into account the extent to which Hobsbawm's Age of Empire is in fact a world history. One of the most obvious criticisms, which have been made of Hobsbawm's writing, is that he is biased towards European history. However, this is hardly surprising considering the European precedence throughout the world during the period 1875-1914, as Hobsbawm points out in an interview with Daniel Snowman: "Because of the nature of the questions I address. If you're dealing with the history of modern capitalism and the world economy, your analysis has got to be Eurocentric right up until the late nineteenth century and the appearance of the USA as a world player" One particular area of transformation that Hobsbawm looks at is that of the sudden increase in the emergence of nation-states and the phenomenon of nationalism. Even though he provides us with an incisive and intellectual account of nationalism and its implications, he fails to recognise the importance of cultural nationalism and primordialism, overemphasising the role of the state and politicians in the construction of nations. Perhaps this is a reminder that in order to fully understand and appreciate the dynamics of Hobsbawm's works, one would need to research more on each of the transformations that Hobsbawm mentions, after-all, The Age of Empire is only a general history. Its purpose is to delineate that through understanding the past we can work to understand the present and possibly the future. The Age of Empire, as Hobsbawm explains in his epilogue, has shown that it was an age "...of growing uneasiness and fear. For most men and women in the world transformed by the bourgeoisie it was almost certainly and age of hope."(p.339). He claims that it is possible to find the perfect society by looking into the past and learning by our mistakes, but the inevitable surprises and changes in life cannot be predicted simply by looking at how things occurred in the past.
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on 13 June 2015
The Age of Empire 1875-1914 is the third of Eric Hobsbawm's quartet of books covering the tumultuous rise of the modern industrialised world. Yet this volume also acts as a denouement, because it completes (after The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 and The Age of Capital 1848-1875) Hobsbawm's internal trilogy covering the 'long nineteenth century'. Collectively, the three books may present a rather daunting endeavour, but Hobsbawm is the consummate writer for the everyday reader. In fact, his Preface states that his work 'is addressed not to other academics, but to all who wish to understand the world', and it's this inclusiveness, stripped of academic waffle, that makes this series such a success. For Hobsbawm, the book is not 'a narrative or a systematic exposition' but 'the unfolding of an argument, or rather, the tracing of a basic theme through the various chapters'. And the theme? To 'explain a world in the process of revolutionary transformation, to trace the roots of our present back into the soil of the past and, perhaps above all, to see the past as a coherent whole' .

Hobsbawm's many themes coalesce into a stunning panorama depicting the imperial escapades of the late nineteenth century. To highlight the numerous topics and wide-ranging erudition on show we need only name a few of the chapters. So, for instance, we have chapters entitled 'An Economy Changes Gear', 'The New Woman', 'Certainties Undermined: The Sciences', and 'Who's Who or the Uncertainties of the Bourgeoisie'. But as these chapter titles make clear, the age of empire was also an age of doubt, for it was marked by a 'profound identity crisis and transformation for a bourgeoisie whose traditional moral foundation crumbled under the very pressure of its own accumulations of wealth and comfort' (p.10). But just why was this class on such a shaky footing?

That question can be answered in a twofold manner. Firstly, the nineteenth century saw the rise of a militant and organised proletariat demanding more of the wealth they created, and this creeping menace, this spectre of the great and angry mob, sent a visceral fear of the rabble into the minds of the bourgeoisie. Secondly, there was a new kind of capitalist on the block, whose aggressive and surly attitude showed he was unwilling to bow down before the idle middle classes. And it was this lack of deference to class that caused great unease for the underworked layabouts of the nineteenth-century drawing rooms. As Hobsbawm rightly notes, it 'was now essentially money or the lack of it, rather than birth or differences in legal freedom or status, which determined the distribution of all...the privileges' (p.24) and power. Mass emigration, especially among the working classes, may've been 'the safety valve which kept social pressure below the point of rebellion or revolution' (p.37) but it was never enough to allay the fears of the rulers and the rich.

Some Western capitalist countries sought to combat the growing fractiousness between the classes by spinning a unifying narrative. But what outlet could provide such an important bond? In short, 'economic expansion and the exploitation of the overseas world were crucial for capitalist countries' (p.61), because they allowed a nationalistic and competitive edge to unite the formerly competing classes, who now exchanged the exclusivity of class for the inclusivity of nationality. As such, 'the acquisition of colonies...became a status symbol, irrespective of their value' (p.67), while the conquering of foreign regions made 'good ideological cement' (p.70). Yet this dangerous manoeuvring around the globe spawned toxic ideologies, worldviews predicated on the idea that non-European peoples were 'fit subjects for conquest, or at least for conversion to the values of the only real civilization, that represented by traders, missionaries and bodies of armed men full of firearms and fire-water' (p.79). And this damning yet honest verdict reinforces Hobsbawm's idea that we need to look to history if we are to explain the present revival of nationalist xenophobia or the pernicious adventurism tied to opening up foreign markets for new investment.

Some, however, felt that the plunder of territorial expansion was needed to pay for the benefits obtained by progressive movements, because, lest we forget, this was also an age that introduced 'old age pensions, public labour exchanges, [and] health and unemployment insurance' (p.103). But 'could not the loyalties of the masses be acquired without expensive social policies which might cut into the profits of entrepreneurs on whom the economy depended?' (ibid). Once again, it was a gung-ho adherence to the national flag and its predominantly land-grabbing ideology that prevailed. Yet this expansive and headlong drive to accumulate capital was always going to bring nations into geopolitical conflict. As Hobsbawm makes clear, the relative calm with which the twentieth century was ushered in masked a rampant fragmentation across the world, especially in the Western sphere, because the 'development of capitalism inevitably pushed the world in the direction of state rivalry, imperialist expansion, conflict and war' (p.316).

And it's this rapid disintegration of the world, unravelled by Hobsbawm in all its complex and intriguing detail, which becomes the subject of the chapters 'Towards Revolution' and 'From Peace to War'. Even a brief synopsis of these two chapters will not do them justice, although it's safe to say that their contents lead Hobsbawm to a terrifying conclusion in his 'Epilogue'. Here he states that the experiences of the twentieth century, which merely played out the embryonic tussles conceived in the nineteenth, have taught us 'to live in the expectation of apocalypse' (p.330). For all its seeming hyperbole, Hobsbawm is devastatingly correct, as his plaintive sentiment has as much relevance now as it did in 1987. Are we not witnessing the return of extremist politics? If so, then it's pertinent to remember Hobsbawm's earlier remark: it is necessary 'to trace the roots of our present back into the soil of the past', otherwise we'll never be able to understand, or remedy, what catalyses humanity's malevolent urges.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Hobsbawm is a witty and touching writer, his 'Overture' a beautiful mixture of memoir and history. He also draws a smile when he makes an absurd comment, which, once you've unpacked it, turns out to be strikingly true. For instance, take the bicycle, that most humdrum of quotidian contraptions. Seeing them every day dampens the wonder of how they revolutionised transport for all the classes, because the bicycle was the 'great engine of freedom' (p.205), especially for women, who had 'more need of free movement' (ibid). There are numerous examples of such defamiliarisation in this book. The work of William Morris has been imitated so often that it's hard to stifle a yawn. But Hobsbawm shows just what a radical presence he was in his day, his entire oeuvre driven by the need to 'restore the broken links between art and the worker in production, and to transform the environment of daily living' (p.229) for the working class. These are just two instances of how Hobsbawm takes a culturally trite object or artist and changes the way we perceive them in the postmodern world.

Anyhow, Hobsbawm ends the book on a positive note. For all its turpitude, the twentieth century was also one of 'extraordinarily impressive and quite undeniable' (p.340) 'material and intellectual progress' (ibid). It was the moral side that let it down. But that shouldn't deter the human race from its final goal, which Hobsbawn formulates in a simple question: 'Is there still room for the greatest of all hopes, that of creating a world in which free men and women, emancipated from fear and material need, will live the good life together in a good society?' (ibid). The answer Hobsbawm gives is brief and points to an enchanting optimism: 'Why not?' (ibid). And it's this hope, this yearning for alternatives, which the twenty-first century left needs to harness. The task of rebuilding the world cannot be left to the resurgent right, who slither across the globe hissing an age-old brand of fear and loathing. No, it must be the left, and they must deliver a message of unity and hope. The dream of a socialist future was one that Hobsbawm never gave up. And neither should we, as the current alternatives are too dreadful to contemplate.
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on 8 December 1999
The Age Of Empire is an interesting account of recent world history. Hobsbawm has attempted to combine a variety of previously differentiated aspects such as economic, military and political history into a single volume to give an overall view. The book is not predominantly a factual account of the period covered but rather an explanation / observation of world events. The book is biased towards European history which is perhaps justified due to European precedence in the world at this period in time. I would recommend this book as an interesting and informative read.
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on 12 September 2010
This is a brilliant history book covering a very interesting period up till 1914. This was one of two recommended course books for my humanity course in European History. (The second recommended course book was in fact Age of Extremes, also by the same author.) This book is very thick and I was initially put off, but was pleasantly surprised by how smooth the prose flowed and how articulate the author is. He writes in a very nice style, explaining all the key concepts throughout the book with unobtrusive sprinklings of his owns thoughts. Events that he mentioned were explored with many interesting facts given - you get an insight of the Europe in terms of politics, economics - It is not just an understanding of history events as they unfolded. The book is predominantly about European history with other countries touched upon, as it is about Empire. It might be a bit heavy to get into, but it is a great history book that I'd recommend.
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on 27 May 2013
My problem with Hobsbawm is not his left-wing perspective, with which I sympathise, nor with his attempt to write a grand, sweeping history of the period - an inane tendency to ever greater specialisation is apparent in the works of too many historians, eager to be considered experts in their own minute field and fearful of addressing the big picture... What irritates me about Hobsbawm's approach to writing history (and this is true of most of his books)is that it seems largely reducible to jumbling together a mass of disconnected, random facts. Never does he attempt to weave these together into a coherent, intelligible narrative. Of course, Hobsbawm is not alone in this - many historians who eschew a chronological approach to writing history, out of a mistaken belief it betrays a lack of sophistication and analytical rigour, seem to produce incoherent narratives devoid of depth or profound insight. What they don't seem to understand is that writing a chronological history, actually going to the trouble of tracing cause and effect, is far harder than just setting down, in a sort of stream of consciousness, random morsels of evidence, jumping randomly between time periods and vaguely speculating as to underlying 'trends', whilst overlooking the need to actually explain what happened, the order in which it happened, and why it happened. Unfortunately, hobsbawm is particularly guilty of this superficial approach. In one typical paragraph from this book you might learn about the value of Britain's exports in 1880, next about the amount of steel produced in the Ruhr in 1890, then a random statistic about the amount of grain produced in france during one particular year etc. I don't dislike statistics, just the way in which they're randomly jumbled together without any attempt at explanation. Also, there are glaring omissions, which appear even more egregious in light of the author's self-professed Marxism. The Indian famines of the late 19th century are not even mentioned, though an estimated 30 million are thought to have died - likewise, neither does Hobsbawm write about the deaths of 9 million Africans in the congo, killed by Belgian imperialism. Inexplicably, hobsbawm concludes his work by arguing that the modern era is more steeped in barbarism than the age of empires, reasoning that whereas then victims of wars and calamities were reckoned in the hundreds of thousands, now deaths are in the millions - Hobsbawm simply ignores the foregoing, abundant evidence of the disastrous effects of imperialist exploitation to come to this conclusion. Overall, I found this book quite disappointing.
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