Eric Hobsbawm is regarded as the most distinguished British historian with a Marxist perspective. His fourth book entitled 'The Age of Extremes: A History of the World,' is a historical reflection on the 20th century. Hobsbawm agrees with many historians that the 20th century symbolically encompasses the years between 1914, the start of World War I, up to 1989, when communism ended in Eastern Europe, or 1991, when the USSR broke up. He also divides the 20th century into the 'Age of Catastrophe' from 1914 to 1945, the 'Golden Age' from 1945 to 1973, and the 'Landslide' from 1973 to the present.
'If men were angels...': reflections on the world of Eric Hobsbawm.
As the twentieth century draws to its end, we can expect a parade of books that win purport to tell us its meaning. The last fin de siecle was rich in artistic innovation; this one is more likely to be rich in historical reflection.But in a certain sense the twentieth century has already ended. It did so half a decade ago. Historians for quite some time have seen the nineteenth century as really lasting from 1789 (the beginning of the French Revolution) to 1914 (the beginning of the First World War), and they have accordingly termed it "the long nineteenth century." So too, historians have recently begun to see the twentieth century as lasting from 1914 to 1989 (the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe) or to 1991 (the end of the Soviet Union), what Eric Hobsbawn in his new book calls "the short twentieth century."(1) As it happens, the two historical centuries -- the long nineteenth and the short twentieth -- add up neatly to two conventional centuries. Hobsbawm is an obvious candidate to be the premier historian of the short twentieth century. He has already written a long (three volumes, 1300 pages) history of the long nineteenth century,(2) and he intends this volume on the short twentieth century to be the fourth and concluding volume in a series. He has also written a dozen other major books that deal with basic themes of the two centuries -- industrialization, labor movements, revolutionary politics, and even jazz music. He is widely recognized as the most distinguished British historian of a Marxist persuasion. Hobsbawm's own life began in 1917, soon after the beginning of the short century. While his book is indeed, as its subtitle states, a history of the world, it is also in a sense a biography of Eric Hobsbawm. Both the strengths and the weaknesse -- the extremes as it were -- of The Age of Extremes are a result of Hobsbawm's combination, and at times confusion, of the two. Hobsbawm divide...