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on 16 April 2015
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 Communist Party and views which reflect so very strongly upon his work.

If historians have been striving to modernise and scientifise history, then Hobsbawm undoes much of the progress that has been made. His rhetorical assaults upon everything right of centre, and sanctification of their left-wing counterparts, is blinding in some sections of the book. The Spanish Civil War is but one example: the narrative of the war provided in the book seems like a mythical tale of saintly revolutionaries combating a corrupted and evil world of fascists, supported by the Catholic Church etc. All decent historians know that no history is as straightforward as that, a fact that Mr. Hobsbawm seems to forget.

Secondly, an unforgivable blemish for any historian, Hobsbawm does hold an ambiguous silence on some shameful events perpetuated by the Soviet Union - a political body that Hobsbawm admired during his years of political activity. As the historian Norman Davies remarked, Hobsbawm forgets the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement waged against Poland, which broke international law and confirmed that the Soviet Union officially undertook an act of military aggression against an Allied country, Britain's first and only ally for the first few years of the war, a fact cozily forgotten by both Roosevelt, Churchill and, it appears, historians like Hobsbawm.

This book, for me personally, is not a work of history, science or art. It is a work of socialist, possibly communist propaganda. It perpetuates a view of the 20th century centred upon bloody revolutions which resulted in human misery, not liberation. It mythologises and overstates the importance of systems such as the Soviet Union, canonising its leadership and hiding some of the most brutal war crimes committed against humanity - and that is well before 1939. One cannot forget that the Soviet Union's policy is responsible for more deaths between 1917 and 1945, than the entirety of the war crimes of Hitler's Germany.

I thoroughly recommend browsing other books if one is to learn of the period.
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on 21 March 2003
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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on 14 July 2004
I recommend this book to everyone who wishes to understand (or at least begin to do so) the 20th century... In my opinion, that is an imperative, because if we don't understand our past, we won't be able to see our present clearly, and we will also be deprived from a good perspective regarding our future. As Hobsbwam says, things "can only be understood as part of a particular historical context".
In "The Age of Extremes", Hobsbawm's explains us his idea that the 20th century began in 1914 (with the outbreak of World WarI), and ended in 1991 (with the collapse of the USSR). That is the reason why he calls it "the short century". He divides that "short century" in three parts: an age of catastrophe (from 1914 to the end of World War II), a golden age (1947 - 1973) and the Landslide (1973 - 1991).
Hobsbawm not only delves into politics, but also into economics, technology, and art, all with a profound knowledge of the subject and a caustic wit that I find irresistible.
Yes, of course that there are a lot of history books regarding the 20th century. As a matter of fact, I've read many of them... But this is still my favorite, because it manages to both interesting and clear, entertaining and useful
On the whole, highly recommended :)
Belen Alcat
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on 23 February 2014
I came across Eric Hobsbawm while reading a book by another eminent historian, Tony Judt. I must have been sufficiently impressed with what I read about him for I retained him in my memory and identified his name a little later on reading an obituary on his death, in 2012 at the age of 95, in 'The Economist'.

On reading the book, the image emanating for its author was one of prodigious intellect, phenomenal erudition with truly global reach, multifaceted, multilingual, and humane.

Whatever individual items of knowledge I possessed on the twentieth century, these coalesced, cohered, and became an integrated and convincing whole.

Similarly intertwined, mutually interacting, and co evolving - but without a trace of historic determinism - became the topics he treated: world wars - hot or cold - revolutions, the varying approaches to the economy, the First, Second, and Third world, demographic change and urbanization, society and culture, the arts, the environment and its discontents, and science and technology.

The book was written in 1994 but it has not lost its sparkle and is as pertinent to-day as it was then.

The problems that haunted humanity at the end of the millennium namely poverty, mass unemployment, violence, violent political change, wealth inequality, and the specter of ecological disaster are haunting humanity to-day but with the important difference that they are much more acute.

The author at the end of the book observes that the major political problems in the approaching millennium is not how to multiply the wealth of nations, but how to distribute it for the benefit of their inhabitants. Social distribution and not growth would dominate the politics of the new millennium.

And he concludes: we have reached a point of historic crisis. Who would presently disagree?
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on 28 June 2007
Whatever its merits, and they are undoubtedly many, for someone who knows little history this book would, most charitably, not be a great place to start - so this review is really intended for those looking to get (or refresh) the gist of 20C history with the minimum reading.
While Hobsbawm manages to get nearly everything in, he does so at the expense of readability. He can write very engagingly, but here he seems to have just too much material to impose his charm on - it would have been better as a shorter, more focused, argument or alternatively it might have been better as 2 or 3 books.
Hobsbawm was a Marxist who, like so many others, seemed to be disorientated by the fall of the Soviet union - he became a 'Eurocommunist', a near-meaningless euphemism for a fashion amongst lefties for post-modernist waffle (not Hobsbawm, thankfully) and accommodation with capitalism. He was part of the the 'Marxism Today' clique that had strong links with the milieu that gave us New Labour. Recently he seems to have found his bearings again, and repented some of the positions he supported in the 90s, but his doubts show in this work - it lacks the force of conviction. But at least his apostasy didn't stretch to an outright conversion to Thatcherism and now neoliberalism like another one-time lefty writer Paul Johnson; he gives a reasonably balanced account; too balanced! - his impartial, third-person precis of everything and anything makes for a read about as entertaining as a telephone directory.
Paul Johnson's 'Modern times' (up to maybe 1960 and no further ,and providing you are aware of his bias, especially in his introduction) is a much more serviceable quick overview - they say nobody is more fanatical than a convert, and Johnson's zeal for Thatcherism is embarrassing in his account of post 1955 so I recommend stopping at the era of decolonialisation - the'Bandung generation'is quite a handy chapter - and using Hobsbawm for anything later, and the earlier part of Hobsbawm for a check and further details. Johnson is a compelling and entertaining writer (like Schama often because he doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story, but pre-1955 he is not too bad here, except of course for downplaying US aggression, which strangely Hobsbawm does too); Hobsbawm is more scrupulous but whatever gift he has for storytelling (and I usually find that considerable) is missing from 'the Age of Extremes
A big omission in Hobsbawm's work is that the USA, the most powerful and influential nation of the 20th century, does not get nearly enough attention, maybe because it's too big a story. So I recommend Hugh Brogan's Penguin (one-time Longman) History of the USA - very readable and widely praised, notably by Gore Vidal for Brogan's account of the origins of the Vietnam war. I also recommend Noam Chomsky's 'World Orders Old and New' and (especially) Michael Parenti's 'Blackshirts and Reds' to give you a correct perspective on all the above and the bare minimum necessary grasp of modern times.
But I suspect most people will buy Age of Extremes because of its reputation, read a bit of it, and mean to finish it but never seem to get around to picking it up again. I did read about 4/5ths of it. I've been meaning to finish it for 5 years (and I've read effortlessly many books covering parts of the picture in that time), so as I said I recommend starting Age of Extremes post c1955 and using Johnson(with one eye open) for the earlier period, and using the rest of Age of Extremes for a reference or second opinion, and using Parenti and Chomsky as a last word.
For those who are already well familiar with the gist of 20C history, the most useful part of Age of Extremes may be Hobsbawm's sources and lists of books for further reading.
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on 5 August 2001
Eric Hobsbawm's new book 'Age of Extremes: the Short Twentieth Century' has won widespread acclaim. His earlier books, such as 'Labouring Men', 'The Age of Revolution (1789-1848)' and 'Industry and Empire', made solid contributions to the history of the 19th and 20th centuries without attracting such attention. But his new book has won the Lionel Gelber Prize for the year's outstanding book in the field of international relations. It is one of The Spectator's Books of the Year, and it is massively displayed in major bookshops.
Why all this publicity? Because his main theme now is different from that of his earlier books. It is also a very fashionable theme: the end of ideology. He brilliantly charts capitalism's failures, but he wrongly sees it as unstoppable.
In his book, he divides the century into three parts: 1914-1945 a landscape of disaster, 1945-1973 a golden age of peace and plenty, and 1973-1991 a slide towards the abyss. To see no progress between 1914 and 1945 overlooks the Soviet Union's achievements and the other struggles, especially China's and Spain's against fascist aggression. In portraying 1945-1973 as a golden age of peace, he ignores the USA's wars against China, Korea and Vietnam, the many British, French and Dutch colonial wars and Israel's three Middle Eastern wars. Further, he ignored the internal struggles led by the working class inside countries, struggles that ended colonialism and won reforms after the Second World War. And he pictures the period from 1973 to 1991 as dominated by the slow collapse of the Soviet Union, while capitalism got more and more out of control.
Hobsbawm, who was a member of the deceased Communist Party of Great Britain, saw the Soviet Union as the only barrier to the triumph of capitalism. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so too, in his view, did all prospects of resisting capitalism: hope died with the Soviet Union.
But his outlook is unnecessarily pessimistic. Are there really no other forces fighting capitalism? There are, but Hobsbawm fails to recognise and understand them. Workers' nationalism and the trade unions are both hostile to capitalism. The workers of Europe, especially now those of France, Italy and Belgium, are in ferment, struggling for their national independence against the capitalist ramp of Economic and Monetary Union. There is deep-seated hatred of, and struggle against, capitalism in the working class of every country, born of the necessities of the daily struggle against the employer. Struggles are arising again in Britain. There are good grounds for optimism.
This book is brilliantly expressed, but it is dispirited in content and ideas, and demoralising in effect. And a cry of despair, however eloquent, is not a good guide to action.
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on 25 July 2007
Whatever its merits, and they are undoubtedly many, for someone who knows little history this book would, most charitably, not be a great place to start - so this review is really intended for those looking to get (or refresh) the gist of 20C history with the minimum reading.
While Hobsbawm manages to get nearly everything in, he does so at the expense of readability. He can write very engagingly, but here he seems to have just too much material to impose his charm on - it would have been better as a shorter, more focused, argument or alternatively it might have been better as 2 or 3 books.
Hobsbawm was a Marxist who, like so many others, seemed to be disorientated by the fall of the Soviet union - he became a 'Eurocommunist', a near-meaningless euphemism for a fashion amongst lefties for post-modernist waffle (not Hobsbawm, thankfully) and accommodation with capitalism. He was part of the the 'Marxism Today' clique that had strong links with the milieu that gave us New Labour. Recently he seems to have found his bearings again, and repented some of the positions he supported in the 90s, but his doubts show in this work - it lacks the force of conviction. But at least his apostasy didn't stretch to an outright conversion to Thatcherism and now neoliberalism like another one-time lefty writer Paul Johnson; he gives a reasonably balanced account; too balanced! - his impartial, third-person precis of everything and anything makes for a read about as entertaining as a telephone directory.
Paul Johnson's 'Modern times' (up to maybe 1960 and no further ,and providing you are aware of his bias, especially in his introduction) is a much more serviceable quick overview - they say nobody is more fanatical than a convert, and Johnson's zeal for Thatcherism is embarrassing in his account of post 1955 so I recommend stopping at the era of decolonialisation - the'Bandung generation'is quite a handy chapter - and using Hobsbawm for anything later, and the earlier part of Hobsbawm for a check and further details. Johnson is a compelling and entertaining writer (like Schama often because he doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story, but pre-1955 he is not too bad here, except of course for downplaying US aggression, which strangely Hobsbawm does too); Hobsbawm is more scrupulous but whatever gift he has for storytelling (and I usually find that considerable) is missing from 'the Age of Extremes
A big omission in Hobsbawm's work is that the USA, the most powerful and influential nation of the 20th century, does not get nearly enough attention, maybe because it's too big a story. So I recommend Hugh Brogan's Penguin (one-time Longman) History of the USA - very readable and widely praised, notably by Gore Vidal for Brogan's account of the origins of the Vietnam war. I also recommend Noam Chomsky's 'World Orders Old and New' and (especially) Michael Parenti's 'Blackshirts and Reds' to give you a correct perspective on all the above and the bare minimum necessary grasp of modern times.
But I suspect most people will buy Age of Extremes because of its reputation, read a bit of it, and mean to finish it but never seem to get around to picking it up again. I did read about 4/5ths of it. I've been meaning to finish it for 5 years (and I've read effortlessly many books covering parts of the picture in that time), so as I said I recommend starting Age of Extremes post c1955 and using Johnson(with one eye open) for the earlier period, and using the rest of Age of Extremes for a reference or second opinion, and using Parenti and Chomsky as a last word.
For those who are already well familiar with the gist of 20C history, the most useful part of Age of Extremes may be Hobsbawm's sources and lists of books for further reading.
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on 28 February 2016
purchase like description. reliable seller.
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on 10 March 2015
If you are into modern history start here.
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on 6 March 2011
Not an easy read, but a comprehensive judgment from a 'Marxist' historian of the old school. Asks all the right questions and provides some well reasoned answers.
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