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Diary

Eric Hobsbawm: Memories of Weimar, 24 January 2008

... explosive Berlin of the Weimar Republic. The place was a terrible letdown.’ The cover of Eric Weitz’s excellent and splendidly illustrated Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy brings back memories.* It shows the old Potsdamer Platz long before its transformation into a ruin at the hands of Hitler and into Disneyland architecture in the reunified ...

Glory

Eric Hobsbawm, 3 June 1982

War and Society in Revolutionary Europe 1770-1870 
by Geoffrey Best.
Leicester University Press/Fontana, 336 pp., £12, March 1982, 0 00 634747 9
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European Empires from Conquest to Collapse 1815-1960 
by V.G. Kiernan.
Leicester University Press/Fontana, 285 pp., £12, March 1982, 0 00 634826 2
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... Is it a good thing that a country, after almost forty years of accelerating decline, has nothing more satisfactory to look back upon than a victorious world war with relatively modest casualties? One is inclined to think not, as British politicians and the media fall in once again behind the fifes and drums of military glory. On the other hand, the unique place of 20th-century war in British life – we are a democracy which has both fought and survived two world wars – and the role of wartime memory in buttressing the national identity since 1945, have been good for the history of war, a subject which appears to flourish exceptionally well in this country ...

In Search of People’s History

Eric Hobsbawm, 19 March 1981

People’s History and Socialist Theory 
edited by Raphael Samuel.
Routledge, 417 pp., £10.95, January 1981, 0 7100 0765 5
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British Labour History 
by E.H. Hunt.
Weidenfeld, 428 pp., £18.50, January 1981, 0 297 77785 8
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... When the Roman emperor Vitellius was deserted in his last moments by everyone except his cook, the aristocratic historian Tacitus could not bring himself to mention the actual occupation of so undignified a member of society. As Peter Burke points out in a friendly but sceptical contribution to People’s History and Socialist Theory, under such circumstances ‘people’s history’ was a contradiction in terms ...

Homesickness

Eric Hobsbawm, 8 April 1993

Jews and the German State: The Political History of a Minority, 1848-1933 
by Peter Pulzer.
Blackwell, 370 pp., £35, March 1992, 0 631 17282 3
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The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait 
by Ruth Gay.
Yale, 336 pp., £19.95, September 1992, 0 300 05155 7
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... Most of world history until the later 18th century could be written without more than marginal reference to the Jews, except as a small people which pioneered the monotheistic world religions, a debt acknowledged by Islam, but creating endless problems for Christianity, or rather for the Jews unlucky enough to live under Christian rulers. Practically the entire intellectual history of the Western world, and all that of the great cultures of the East, could be written without more than a few footnotes about the direct Jewish contribution to them, though not without paying considerable attention to the role of Jews as intermediaries and cultural brokers, notably between the classic Mediterranean heritage, Islam and the medieval West ...

The Left’s Megaphone

Eric Hobsbawm, 8 July 1993

Harold Laski: A Political Biography 
by Michael Newman.
Macmillan, 438 pp., £45, March 1993, 0 333 43716 0
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Harold Laski: A Life on the Left 
by Isaac Kramnick and Barry Sheerman.
Hamish Hamilton, 669 pp., £25, June 1993, 0 241 12942 7
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... It would not be too much to say,’ wrote the otherwise unsympathetic Max (now Lord) Beloff after Harold Laski’s death in 1950, ‘that ... the future historian may talk of the period between 1920 and 1950 as the “The Age of Laski.”’ Thirty-seven years later a leading historian of the Labour Party observed that ‘Laski’s time and reputation have gone into almost total eclipse ...

Era of Wonders

Eric Hobsbawm: Mandarin Science, 26 February 2009

Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China 
by Simon Winchester.
Viking, 316 pp., £20, September 2008, 978 0 670 91379 4
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... The great debate about ‘The Two Cultures’ divided the arts and sciences in Cambridge, and the intellectual pages of Britain, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but is now hardly remembered, memorialised only in Stefan Collini’s edition of the 1959 Rede Lecture. This lecture was a claim for the centrality of science and an attack on ‘literary intellectuals’ by the now almost forgotten C ...

Diary

Eric Hobsbawm: My Days as a Jazz Critic, 27 May 2010

... I owe my years as a jazz reporter to John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which made the British cultural establishment of the mid-1950s take notice of a music so evidently dear to the new and talented Angry Young Men. When, needing some money, I saw that Kingsley Amis wrote in the Observer on a subject about which he obviously knew no more and possibly less than I did, I called a friend at the New Statesman ...

After the Cold War

Eric Hobsbawm: Tony Judt, 26 April 2012

... My relations with Tony Judt date back a long time but they were curiously contradictory. We were friends, though not intimate ones, and while both of us were politically committed historians, and both preferred wearing informal gear as historians rather than regimental uniform, we marched to different drummers. Nevertheless our intellectual interests had something in common ...

Diary

Eric Hobsbawm: An Assembly of Ghosts, 21 April 2005

... I missed meeting Mikhail Gorbachev four years ago, at a centenary conference of the Nobel Peace Foundation in Oslo, which matched a selection of Nobel Peace Prize winners with a selection of academics. I had accepted the invitation because he was going to be there, but he didn’t show up, and my opposite number turned out to be Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, an admirable figure no doubt, but not the man who did more single-handedly to save the world from the danger of nuclear war than anyone ...

Before the Fall

Eric Hobsbawm, 21 April 1983

Europe Transformed 1878-1919 
by Norman Stone.
Fontana, 448 pp., £3.50, February 1983, 0 00 634262 0
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... From TV studios to Trinity College, Cambridge, who can resist the historical fascination of the decades before 1914? They are sufficiently ‘contemporary’ for their landscape to be recognisable even in 1983. We are already in a world of cars, aeroplanes, radio communication, movies, black music, abstract art, quantum theory and petro-diplomacy. At the same time, they are almost inconceivably remote, bathed in the light of those lamps which, as Sir Edward Grey said in August 1914, were going out all over Europe, not to be lit again ...

Captain Swing

Eric Hobsbawm, 24 November 1994

The Duke Ellington Reader 
edited by Mark Tucker.
Oxford, 536 pp., £19.95, February 1994, 0 19 505410 5
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Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America 
by David Stowe.
Harvard, 299 pp., £19.95, October 1994, 0 674 85825 5
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... In the élite minority arts of the 20th century, the US component is one of many, and by no means the most important. On the other hand, it penetrates, indeed dominates, the popular culture of the globe with the single exception of sport, which still echoes the British hegemony over the 19th-century era of bourgeoisie and the first Industrial Revolution, via tennis, golf and, above all, association football ...

Out of the Great Dark Whale

Eric Hobsbawm, 31 October 1996

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 
by Orlando Figes.
Cape, 923 pp., £20, August 1996, 0 224 04162 2
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... The great revolutions of the modern world never cease to be controversial, inside or outside their countries, as the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution recently demonstrated. In France the anniversary produced a massive attack on the Revolution and its legacy from neo-liberal historians and ideologues; outside France it produced Simon Schama’s passionate manifesto against violence in the form of a history of the Revolution as a catalogue of horrors ...

Goodbye Columbus

Eric Hobsbawm, 9 July 1992

... A few weeks ago, in Mexico, I was asked to sign a protest against Christopher Columbus, on behalf of the original native populations of the American continents and islands, or rather, of their descendants. I understand the feelings which inspire such gestures, and have some sympathy with them, although it seems to me that the only object of protesting against something that happened half a millennium ago is to get a little publicity for a cause of 1992 rather than 1492 ...

What difference did she make?

Eric Hobsbawm, 23 May 1991

A Question of Leadership: Gladstone to Thatcher 
by Peter Clarke.
Hamish Hamilton, 334 pp., £17.99, April 1991, 0 241 13005 0
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The Quiet Rise of John Major 
by Edward Pearce.
Weidenfeld, 177 pp., £14.99, April 1991, 0 297 81208 4
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... The ‘question of leadership’ which is the subject of both these books is the question of how much difference leadership in politics can make. Contrary to what is held by believers in the cult of personality, who range from newspaper editors to political historians, it may make very little difference. As John Kenneth Galbraith has observed, changing the top man in important business corporations rarely affects the price of their shares on the market ...

C (for Crisis)

Eric Hobsbawm: The 1930s, 6 August 2009

The Morbid Age: Britain between the Wars 
by Richard Overy.
Allen Lane, 522 pp., £25, May 2009, 978 0 7139 9563 3
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... There is a major difference between the traditional scholar’s questions about the past – ‘What happened in history, when and why?’ – and the question that has, in the last 40 years or so, come to inspire a growing body of historical research: namely, ‘How do or did people feel about it?’ The first oral history societies were founded in the late 1960s ...

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