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Everybody behaved perfectly

Eric Hobsbawm: Hilde’s Two Husbands, 25 August 2011

Scientist Spies: A Memoir of My Three Parents and the Atom Bomb 
by Paul Broda.
Troubador, 333 pp., £17.50, April 2011, 978 1 84876 607 5
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... This is an unusual and illuminating contribution to the literature on Soviet espionage that has become part of Anglo-Saxon folklore. All the more so as it is written from the point of view of the spies rather than their hunters. It is about four people: the author, a retired biochemist of distinction, and the ‘three parents’ whose times shaped his life ...

Poker Face

Eric Hobsbawm: Palmiro Togliatti, 8 April 2010

Palmiro Togliatti: A Biography 
by Aldo Agosti, translated by Vanna Derosas and Jane Ennis.
Tauris, 339 pp., £51.50, 1 84511 726 3
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Il sarto di Ulm: Una possibile storia del PCI 
by Lucio Magri.
Il Saggiatore, 454 pp., €21, October 2009, 978 88 428 1608 9
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... The history of the 20th-century Communist movements that never acquired state power has been overshadowed by the extraordinary story of the rise and fall or self-transformation of the regimes inspired by the October Revolution. Within little more than 30 years of Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station, Russia had become a superpower, and one third of humanity was ruled by Communist parties ...

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 ...

Could it have been different?

Eric Hobsbawm: Budapest 1956, 16 November 2006

Journey to a Revolution: A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 
by Michael Korda.
HarperCollins, 221 pp., $24.95, September 2006, 0 06 077261 1
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Twelve Days: Revolution 1956 
by Victor Sebestyen.
Weidenfeld, 340 pp., £20, August 2006, 0 297 84731 7
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A Good Comrade: Janos Kadar, Communism and Hungary 
by Roger Gough.
Tauris, 323 pp., £24.50, August 2006, 1 84511 058 7
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Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt 
by Charles Gati.
Stanford, 264 pp., £24.95, September 2006, 0 8047 5606 6
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... Contemporary history is useless unless it allows emotion to be recollected in tranquillity. Probably no episode in 20th-century history generated a more intense burst of feeling in the Western world than the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Although it lasted less than two weeks, it was both a classic instance of the narrative of justified popular insurrection against oppressive government, familiar since the fall of the Bastille, and of David’s in this case doomed victory against Goliath ...

Retreat of the Male

Eric Hobsbawm: Revolution in the Family, 4 August 2005

Between Sex and Power: Family in the World 1900-2000 
by Göran Therborn.
Routledge, 379 pp., £24.99, February 2004, 0 415 30078 9
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... The family is a subject on which, for obvious reasons, there is no shortage of public or private views. Google records 368 million items under the word ‘family’, as against a mere 170 million under ‘war’. All governments have tried to encourage or discourage procreation and passed laws about human coupling and decoupling. All the global religions (with the possible exception of Buddhism) and all the 20th-century ideologies have strong convictions on these matters ...

War and Peace in the 20th Century

Eric Hobsbawm: Epidemic of War, 21 February 2002

... The 20th century was the most murderous in recorded history. The total number of deaths caused by or associated with its wars has been estimated at 187 million, the equivalent of more than 10 per cent of the world’s population in 1913. Taken as having begun in 1914, it was a century of almost unbroken war, with few and brief periods without organised armed conflict somewhere ...

Red Science

Eric Hobsbawm: J.D. Bernal, 9 March 2006

J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science 
by Andrew Brown.
Oxford, 562 pp., £25, November 2005, 0 19 851544 8
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... Let me begin with a motor trip in 1944 by two scientists down the valley from Lord Mountbatten’s headquarters in Kandy to the jungle. The younger of the two remembers what his companion talked about. He was interested and expert in everything around him – the war, Buddhist religion and art, the geological specimens he would retrieve from every ditch, the properties of mud, luminous insects, the ancestry of cycads, but his recurrent theme was the fundamentals of biology and of the enormous developments just becoming possible through the advances in the physical and chemical techniques of the 1930s ...

Cadres

Eric Hobsbawm: Communism in Britain, 26 April 2007

The Lost World of British Communism 
by Raphael Samuel.
Verso, 244 pp., £19.99, November 2006, 1 84467 103 8
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Communists and British Society 1920-91 
by Kevin Morgan, Gidon Cohen and Andrew Flinn.
Rivers Oram, 356 pp., £16.99, January 2007, 978 1 85489 145 7
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Bolshevism and the British Left, Part One: Labour Legends and Russian Gold 
by Kevin Morgan.
Lawrence and Wishart, 320 pp., £18.99, March 2007, 978 1 905007 25 7
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... Lenin’s ‘vanguard party’ of Marxist cadres, disciplined and ideally full-time, his ‘professional revolutionaries’, was the most formidable political invention of the 20th century. Its impact on the history of that century was extraordinary. Some thirty years after Lenin arrived at the Finland Station, parties of this type ruled over one third of the world’s population ...

Benefits of Diaspora

Eric Hobsbawm: The Jewish Emancipation, 20 October 2005

... Most work in the field of Jewish history deals with the almost invariably vast impact of the outside world on the Jews, who are almost invariably a small minority of the population. My concern is with the impact of the Jews on the rest of humanity. And, in particular, with the explosive transformation of this impact in the 19th and 20th centuries: that is to say, since the emancipation and self-emancipation of the Jews began in the late 18th century ...

Eric Hobsbawm

Karl Miller, 25 October 2012

... I am not an economic historian, which did not prevent me from being friends with Eric Hobsbawm for many years. It keeps me from opinionating here about his work as a historian, a more than economic historian, in fact, who wrote for a wide public. But it doesn’t stop me from writing about him in a personal way, with recourse to memories ...

Pastiche

Norman Stone, 21 July 1983

The Invention of Tradition 
edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger.
Cambridge, 320 pp., £17.50, March 1983, 0 521 24645 8
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... Welsh cultural identity (treated more respectfully than Trevor-Roper treats poor old Scotland). Eric Hobsbawm both introduces and concludes the book with essays of great penetration and learning on ‘the invention of tradition’ as a kind of phenomenology of the bourgeois mind. David Cannadine’s essay on the British Monarchy is a most enjoyable ...

I want to love it

Susan Pedersen: What on earth was he doing?, 18 April 2019

Eric HobsbawmA Life in History 
by Richard J. Evans.
Little, Brown, 800 pp., £35, February 2019, 978 1 4087 0741 8
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... Was​ Eric Hobsbawm interested in himself? Not, I think, so very much. He had a more than healthy ego and enough self-knowledge to admit it, but all his curiosity was turned outward – towards problems, politics, literatures, languages, landscapes. Never without a book, whether bound for a tutorial or the local A&E, for decades he disappeared off for tramping holidays or conferences anywhere from Catalonia to Cuba the moment term ended ...

Hobsbawm Today

Ross McKibbin, 22 June 1989

Politics for a Rational Left: Political Writings, 1977-88 
by Eric Hobsbawm.
Verso, 250 pp., £29.95, May 1989, 0 86091 246 9
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... Eric Hobsbawm is one of Britain’s most creative Marxist historians. Anyone who teaches at a school or university is aware of the effect of his writing, even on those who do not know from which stable he comes. He has this effect because he can discover in history a dynamic yet comprehensible movement. Furthermore, he can write two kinds of history with equal facility: there are books with great sweep like Industry and Empire and there are others, like Primitive Rebels or Labouring Men, which are more intimate and local in their focus ...

Where will this voyage end?

Neal Ascherson, 14 June 1990

Echoes of the Marseillaise: Two centuries look back on the French Revolution 
by E.J. Hobsbawm.
Verso, 144 pp., £24.95, May 1990, 0 86091 282 5
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... 1789. At this distance from July last year, the moment has arrived for just the sort of book which Eric Hobsbawm has written: a history of the Revolution’s history which examines the main interpretations over the past 200 years in the light of today’s revisionist counter-offensive. Professor Hobsbawm displays his ...

On the State of the Left

W.G. Runciman, 17 December 1981

The Forward March of Labour Halted? 
by Eric Hobsbawm, Ken Gill and Tony Benn.
Verso, 182 pp., £8.50, November 1981, 0 86091 041 5
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... topical interest. The contents of, and reactions to, the Marx Memorial Lecture given by Professor Eric Hobsbawm in 1978 testify to a mood of doubt amounting to despair which would have astonished and dismayed a similar audience a generation ago. The Forward March of Labour has stumbled to a halt, and not in order to regroup for a final triumphant assault ...

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