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Capsule Review

Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History

In This Review

Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History
Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History
By Richard J. Evans
Oxford University Press, 2019, 800 pp. Purchase

This biography traces the life of Eric Hobsbawm, one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century and an unrepentant communist. His story, with all its contradictions, parallels that of many radical leftist intellectuals in Europe during the middle of the century. A lower-class Jewish orphan who grew up in Vienna and Berlin during the 1930s, Hobsbawm took to the streets to fight fascists and reasonably concluded that strict solidarity with a radical party was the only way to make political change. He never renounced communism, as so many other leftists ultimately did. But he did come to place greater value on intellectual diversity, tolerant leadership, and grassroots organization within left-wing politics. Hobsbawm’s writings helped revolutionize the historical profession. He wrote omnivorously, on banditry, Luddism, local anarchism, rural uprisings, agricultural collectives, and other forms of working-class and peasant resistance to the march of industrialization. In later life, as a respected university professor and BBC lecturer, he penned a series of revisionist Marxist histories of Europe’s industrialization, revolutions, and empires that became bestsellers—not least in the developing world, which was then undergoing similar upheavals. 

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