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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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

A Niche for a Prophet

Eric Hobsbawm: The Jews of San Nicandro, 3 February 2011

The Jews of San Nicandro 
by John Davis.
Yale, 238 pp., £20, November 2010, 978 0 300 11425 6
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... San Nicandro Garganico is a modest agrarian township of some 16,000 inhabitants on the edge of the spur of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. It has been somewhat bypassed by Italy’s postwar development and has never been on the tourist circuit, or indeed had anything about it that might attract outsiders. The railway didn’t even reach it until 1931 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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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