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.
On its own terms it is an excellent book for gaining an
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.
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
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.