This book is the second 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 Capital" is concerned with the period 1848 to 1875, and primarily focuses on western Europe - although other countries are touched on, to the extent that they play a part in the global triumph of capitalist society. It was during these years that the logic and dynamics of capitalism became generalised. What had previously been embryonic now blossomed. Economic relations, politics, and even the cultural aspects of society were rearranged in accordance with the dominance of capital. And what developed in Europe subsequently shaped the wider world ... a world unified through market transactions and trade negotiations. This was the golden era of the bourgeoisie.
This book was first published in 1975, and it solidified Hobsbawn's reputation as an eminent historian. This is a scholarly book, and yet at the same time it's popularly understandable. It's well written and fascinating, and I thoroughly recommend it to both students and the more general reader interested in the subject matter. This is a book that helps elucidate the transitions experienced in society, as resulted in the world we know today.
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.
on 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.
on 28 June 2009
Although I'm not a leftist, I read many of his books, especially the four ones about the past Centuries. A really intersting book, written with unbias opinion, a really true historian.
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
on 23 September 2011
a really fabulous book explaining the 'golden age' of Britain on the world stage, or as Hobsbawm calls it, the "age of capital". Well worth reading if you are interested in victorian history or in economics at it described the key time when capitalism became predominant throughout the world.
on 15 September 2012
I used this alongside the age of empire in my first year of University. It has acted as an excellent and thorough start point for research in the mid nineteenth century being both detailed and concise, covering a global history of the period.
There are many things which make this book excel. Two comments I will make are that, firstly I was in no way disadvantaged by not having read the age of revolution which comes first in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone. Second, Hobsbawm's inclusion of statistical data, maps and charts at the end of the book is of great use for university essay writing on specific subjects like industrial production.
There are few genuine criticisms I can make of this book, I can only nitpick. The lack of dating in the chapter titles could be a negative factor for historians focussing on a very specific period. Beyond small things like this though, I can't fault it.
I foresee myself using this book for the rest of my university days.