Age of Extremes The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991

by Eric Hobsbawm

Paperback, 1995





Abacus (1995), Edition: 1st Abacus Edition, 640 pages


In this masterful and highly accessible study of our times, one of the world's leading historians sheds exciting new light on our understanding of the twentieth century, with incisive assessments of events that have marked this turbulent period. Eric Hobsbawm, whose own life spans this century, deftly examines from both personal and scholarly perspectives such events as the great economic depression of the 1930s, the Cold War, the rise of military regimes, revolutionary changes in the arts, and technological advances in the sciences. Divided into three parts - The Age of Catastrophe, 1914-1950; The Golden Age, 1950-1973; and The Landslide, 1973-1991 - the book looks at the legacy of the two world wars, the end of colonialism and the growing importance of the Third World, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hobsbawm ponders the influence of the economic and social upheavals of the third quarter of the twentieth century, which, he states, brought about the "most profound revolution in society since the Stone Age." In conclusion, Hobsbawm looks to the next millennium, pointing up the dilemmas posed by a burgeoning population, destruction of the environment, and the growing economic disparity between rich and poor. Writes Hobsbawm, "Our world risks both explosion and implosion. It must change." With an astonishing command of historical details and data, The Age of Extremes is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the cultural and social context in which we live.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stillatim
A great appendix to Hobsbawm's history of the long nineteenth century (French Revolution to WWI), and a pretty decent place to start for 20th century history I would say. No complaints. And i'm a real complainer.
LibraryThing member experimentalis
the necessary intro to the subject, looks less and less dated
LibraryThing member almigwin
Fast paced and fun to read. He analyzes political movements and economic successes and disasters across the globe. It is an amazing tour de force and even if you think you know your history, you will find new insights here. It is worrisome to see the parallels between the economic collapse in the
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thirties and the rise of fascism with our own 'recession' and rising demagoguery, religious fundamentalism and ethnic estrangements.
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LibraryThing member bevok
I started at the end, chronologically speaking with this addendum to Eric Hobsbawm's much admired "Age of" sequence. The book by its nature is more than just historical analysis, with personal observation and reflection informing its analysis.
On its own terms it is an excellent book for gaining an
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understanding of cause and effect in the twentieth century. It is not a narrative and those less familiar with the events would be better with Martin Gilbert or John Roberts' efforts. Hobsbawm certainly popularised the notion of the short twentieth century (1914 - 1991), a periodisation which is now widely used. Within that he discusses three sub periods: the age of catastrophe, the Golden age and the age of crisis.
This is not a light book. It is not necessarily hard to read but it is rich in content and thought. The paperback has almost 600 pages of densely packed ideas, and I often found myself re-reading paragraphs. Again not because they're not clear, just that there is a lot of thought to take in.
Because of Hobsbawm's Marxist background a lot of people immediately attack him, some quite venomously once he was safely in the grave (e.g. A N Wilson). The only word for that is cowardly. Actually reading this book on its own terms Hobsbawm clearly identifies the problems, flaws and cruelties in "really existing socialism" and the other totalitarian regimes of the age of catastrophe in the first half of the century. Stalin is described as "an autocrat of exceptional, some might say unique, ferocity, ruthlessness and lack of scruple". He describes Soviet collectivisation as a failure. He also gives a deft analysis of the fall of communism in the 1980s. He effectively describes "the weaknesses of the self-serving party bureaucracy of the Brezhnev era; a combination of incompetence and corruption" and is stinging about Maoism.
Make no mistake, Hobsbawm sees plenty of flaws in capitalism and doesn't believe it is sustainable. His discussion about growing inequality, climatic effects, globalisation and the challenges of population growth could have come out of yesterday's newspaper (the book was published in 1994). But to get the impression from a few critics that he is a rabid unapologetic Stalinist certainly will cause you to miss out on a lot of fascinating insights from this book.
He identifies key transformations through the century - diminishing Eurocentrism, globalisation and stronger transnational interconnections, and the disintegration of connections between individuals, a self-centredness. This book really got me thinking and reflecting and gives a good historical framework for understanding contemporary events.
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LibraryThing member le.vert.galant
Hobsbawm is a provocative guide to the "Short Twentieth Century." He is usually labeled a Marxist historian, but from reading his tetralogy, of which this is the final volume, I see him more as a writer not in thrall to capitalist triumphalism. He's certainly not a free marketeer, his loathing for
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economists is palpable, but neither is he an apologist for Stalin. His chapter on the last years of the USSR, analyzing what was gained and lost in its fall, is a masterpiece of historical perception, more remarkable in that it was penned only a few years after 1989.
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LibraryThing member piefuchs
A brillant assessment of the time period from WW1 to the fall of communism written in stunning prose. Allocated equal depth to political events and cultural phenomenon and covers the whole world. A disturbing commentary on the extent to which the cold war moved history.
LibraryThing member iftyzaidi
A decade on and its still one of the best histories of the 20th century.
LibraryThing member ck2935
This is a very deatailed book, but facinating to read. I've read a few other's by the author, and it is amazing how he ties everything together.
LibraryThing member derekstaff
A pretty good social examination of the history of the world since WWI.
LibraryThing member Fledgist
The great Marxist historian on his own age.
LibraryThing member winedrunksea
LibraryThing member MiaCulpa
Hobsbawm is a master historian and Age of Extremes is his final entry in his series recording the history of the world since the industrial revolution. The short twentieth century covers the carnage of world wars, the cold war and the fall of the Soviet Union. Hobswbawm can even personally impose
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himself on the book, mentioning that the atom was being split less than a kilometre from where he studied.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
This is a magnificent book and can best be described as a grand sweep of the 20th Century. Considering that we went through two world wars, this was indeed the age of extremes.

I'd like to quibble, as a good Asian, and say that he did not pay enough attention to the changes in Asia and Africa. He
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did mention these regions, but the weight given to them is low. Having said that, the western countries did dominate the age and, in the process, caused a lot of mayhem.

Eric Hobsbawm was an excellent historian and a man who could weave a tale together. Weaving the complex threads of the 20th century into a composite whole is a magnificent achievement.
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LibraryThing member tommi180744
A considerable 'left' of centre History of the middle 80 years of the 20th Century: an important perspective on the cataclysmic episodes and remarkable people that marked the final century of the 2nd millennium (using the Christian calendar).
LibraryThing member vguy
If you know nothing of your own and recent times, might be a place to start ,but not ideal as there is so much detail, and diversions into non-central themes (faraway countries, cultural matters). the elephant in the room is really Stalin and the whole communist Russia phenomenon. marxism gets it
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mentions but more in the way of debate and in-party manovereing, rather than assassinations, imprisonings and the long arm of the dictator. Did not finish as it is a big fat book and tells me little that is new..
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7.91 x 5.12 inches


0349106711 / 9780349106717
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