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Eric Hobsbawm is considered by many to be our greatest living historian. Robert Heilbroner, writing about Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes 1914-1991 said, “I know of no other account that sheds as much light on what is now behind us, and thereby casts so much illumination on our possible futures.” Skeptical, endlessly curious, and almost contemporary with the terrible “short century” which is the subject of Age of Extremes, his most widely read book, Hobsbawm has, for eighty-five years, been committed to understanding the “interesting times” through which he has lived.
Hitler came to power as Hobsbawm was on his way home from school in Berlin, and the Soviet Union fell while he was giving a seminar in New York. He was a member of the Apostles at King’s College, Cambridge, took E.M. Forster to hear Lenny Bruce, and demonstrated with Bertrand Russell against nuclear arms in Trafalgar Square. He translated for Che Guevara in Havana, had Christmas dinner with a Soviet master spy in Budapest and an evening at home with Mahalia Jackson in Chicago. He saw the body of Stalin, started the modern history of banditry and is probably the only Marxist asked to collaborate with the inventor of the Mars bar.
Hobsbawm takes us from Britain to the countries and cultures of Europe, to America (which he appreciated first through movies and jazz), to Latin America, Chile, India and the Far East. With Interesting Times, we see the history of the twentieth century through the unforgiving eye of one of its most intensely engaged participants, the incisiveness of whose views we cannot afford to ignore in a world in which history has come to be increasingly forgotten.
"The past is another country, but it has left its mark on those who once lived there," writes noted historian Hobsbawm in this lyrical, pungent and provocative memoir. Known for his histories of the 19th and 20th centuries, Hobsbawm examines this material from a far more intimate perspective and details his personal and intellectual life from his birth into a Jewish family in 1917 to the present. Weaving insightful material into a broader historical tapestry, he moves gracefully from his parents' troubled marriage to his early Communist political work in Berlin in 1933, and his family's flight to England with the rise of Hitler. At university, he became one of the "Cambridge Reds" and professionally was known as a "Marxist historian" but, he comments, "historical understanding is what I am after, not agreement, approval or sympathy." In the forthright style that has made his scholarly work so accessible, Hobsbawm writes as easily about his love of jazz as about the complicated problems the Cambridge-based Historians' Group of the Communist Party had with the encroaching hard line of the Soviet government. While Hobsbawm's life is fascinating, it is his pungent observations on today's world that bring a sharp contemporary edge to his life and memoir. He has sharp things to say about Zionism, and of contemporary America he writes, "the US empire does not know what it wants or can do with its power.... It merely insists that those who are not with it are against it." This important work augments the life's work of one of the last century's most important historians.