The Age Of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm
  • Title: The Age Of Extremes
  • Subtitle: 1914-1991
  • Author(s): Eric Hobsbawm
  • Publisher: Hachette UK
  • Year: 2020-02-06
  • ISBN-10: 0349144397
  • ISBN-13: 9780349144399


“The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991” by Eric Hobsbawm is a comprehensive narrative that explores the tumultuous period of the 20th century, which was marked by two world wars, economic upheaval, and ideological conflicts. Hobsbawm, known for his expertise in the field of social and economic history, offers his readers an in-depth analysis of this era, presenting a panoramic view of the global political, social, and cultural landscapes.

Beginning with the outbreak of World War I and concluding with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hobsbawm chronicles the major events that shaped the century. He delves into the causes and consequences of both World Wars, examining how they transformed global power dynamics and laid the groundwork for the rise and fall of various geopolitical ideologies. Not only does Hobsbawm explore the challenges faced by nations and societies during times of war but he also delves into the aftermath, investigating the implications of post-war reconstruction and the onset of the Cold War.

Hobsbawm’s meticulous analysis not only focuses on the political upheaval but also delves into the social and cultural shifts that took place during this period. He examines the changing dynamics of labor, the rise of nationalism, the emergence of new social movements, and the impact of technology on society. Moreover, Hobsbawm pays close attention to the role of intellectuals and artists in shaping the narrative of this age of extremes, shedding light on the cultural and artistic responses to the upheaval.

In “The Age of Extremes,” Hobsbawm skillfully weaves together historical facts, personal narratives, and economic analysis to provide readers with a comprehensive understanding of the 20th century. With his insightful prose and engaging storytelling, Hobsbawm offers an invaluable resource for both history enthusiasts and those seeking to understand the underlying forces that shaped the world we live in today.


Book Review

"The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991" - A Masterful Exploration of a Turbulent Century

In his magnum opus, “The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991,” Eric Hobsbawm provides a sweeping historical account of the 20th century, delving into the political, social, and cultural upheavals that defined this transformative era. As a renowned historian, Hobsbawm brings his expertise and deep analytical prowess to bear as he examines the major events and ideologies that shaped the century, offering readers a panoramic view of the world at a time of extremes.

Hobsbawm wastes no time in immersing the reader in the turbulent period of the two world wars, analyzing their causes and consequences. He argues that World War I was a pivotal moment, shattering the illusion of progress and marking a significant turning point in the collective consciousness. Through his meticulous analysis of the geopolitical dynamics and the rise of nationalist sentiments, Hobsbawm expertly demonstrates how these events paved the way for even greater cataclysms in the form of World War II.

One of the hallmarks of Hobsbawm’s work is his ability to seamlessly connect the political and economic forces at play. He explores the rise and fall of different ideologies such as communism, fascism, and capitalism, tracing their origins and examining their impact on societies across the globe. Hobsbawm’s insights into the Soviet Union’s experiment with communism are particularly enlightening. He explores the idealism and eventual disillusionment felt by many intellectuals and workers who believed in the promise of a fairer society, all the while highlighting the structural flaws that ultimately led to the downfall of the Soviet experiment.

“The Age of Extremes” is not limited to examining the world through the lens of politics and economic systems; Hobsbawm also pays great attention to the social and cultural transformations that accompanied these seismic shifts. He examines the changing nature of work and the rise of the working class, exploring their struggles and victories. He also delves into the emergence of new social movements, shedding light on the feminist movement, civil rights struggles, and the fight for decolonization. By analyzing these societal changes, Hobsbawm adds depth and nuance to his historical narrative.

Moreover, Hobsbawm provides a keen analysis of the impact of technology on society, acknowledging its role as both a driver of progress and a catalyst for new challenges. From the technological advancements in warfare to the rise of mass communication and consumerism, Hobsbawm highlights how these developments reshaped societies and altered cultural values. He emphasizes the role of intellectuals and artists in responding to these changes, showcasing their ability to capture the zeitgeist and express the anxieties of the age.

What makes Hobsbawm’s work truly brilliant is his ability to weave together personal narratives, historical facts, and economic analysis to provide a comprehensive view of the 20th century. His engaging prose and attention to detail make the book accessible to both academic and general readers alike. Hobsbawm’s ability to connect seemingly disparate events and themes effortlessly is exemplified in his exploration of the relationship between economic crises and political radicalization. He argues that the Great Depression of the 1930s provided fertile ground for the rise of extremist political ideologies and leaders, who exploited people’s frustration with the existing capitalist system.

“The Age of Extremes” serves as a testament to Hobsbawm’s immense scholarship and his dedication to presenting a balanced and insightful account of history. While some may argue that his Marxist perspective shapes his analysis, it is precisely his ideological commitment that allows him to peel back the layers of superficial explanations and delve into the underlying socio-economic forces that shaped this era of extremes.

In conclusion, “The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991” by Eric Hobsbawm is an exceptional work that offers a comprehensive and thought-provoking analysis of the 20th century. Through his extensive research and engaging storytelling, Hobsbawm sheds light on the complex interplay between politics, economics, society, and culture that defined this turbulent period. This book is not only a valuable resource for history enthusiasts but also a compelling read for anyone seeking to understand the forces that shaped the modern world.

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In a sense, the entire history of the twentieth century is about the rise and fall of the two world political systems which appeared at the start of the century: the imperial, headed by Great Britain, which still dominated the world in 1914, and the so-called liberal-democratic republic, headed by the United States, which became the world's dominant political system after 1945. The history of the twentieth century is, in other words, the history of the globalized world reshaped by these two titanic political and economic powers, and the struggle for dominance between the two.

Key Ideas

In “The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991,” Eric Hobsbawm explores numerous key ideas that shaped the 20th century and continue to influence the world today. Some of these key ideas include:

  1. The Erosion of Empires and Rise of Nationalism Hobsbawm examines the collapse of empires and the subsequent rise of nationalism as a defining characteristic of the century. He analyzes how the disintegration of imperial powers, such as the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, led to the reconfiguration of political boundaries and the emergence of new nation-states.

  2. The Impact of World Wars Hobsbawm emphasizes the transformative impact of both World Wars on global politics, economics, and societies. He explores the causes and consequences of these conflicts, shedding light on the role they played in shaping ideologies, national identities, and power dynamics on a global scale.

  3. The Shifting Ideological Landscape The book examines the ideological conflicts between communism, fascism, and capitalism, and their role in shaping the 20th century. Hobsbawm critically analyzes the rise and fall of these ideologies, highlighting their influence on political movements and the subsequent consequences for societies worldwide.

  4. The Challenges of Decolonization Hobsbawm discusses the dismantling of European colonial empires and the struggles for independence in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. He examines the social, political, and economic challenges faced by these newly independent nations and the enduring legacies of colonialism.

  5. Social and Cultural Shifts Hobsbawm pays great attention to the socio-cultural changes that occurred during the 20th century. He explores the changing nature of work, the rise of the working class, the feminist movement, civil rights struggles, and the impact of technology on society, among other topics. By analyzing these shifts, Hobsbawm provides a multi-faceted understanding of the era.

  6. The Impact of Economic Crises Hobsbawm elucidates the impact of economic crises, such as the Great Depression, on political radicalization and the rise of extremist ideologies. He explores the consequences of these crises on class dynamics, social inequalities, and the reconfiguration of political landscapes.

  7. Intellectual and Artistic Responses The book also discusses the role of intellectuals and artists in responding to the challenges and transformations of the 20th century. Hobsbawm explores how writers, artists, and thinkers expressed the anxieties and hopes of the age, reflecting the changing cultural values and ideologies prevalent during this period.

Overall, “The Age of Extremes” presents a comprehensive examination of key ideas and themes that shaped the 20th century. Hobsbawm masterfully weaves together these ideas, offering readers a nuanced understanding of the epochal shifts in politics, economics, society, and culture during this transformative era.


Target Audience

The book “The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991” by Eric Hobsbawm is targeted at a diverse audience interested in 20th-century history, global politics, and socio-economic dynamics. This book is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • History Enthusiasts For individuals fascinated by the intricacies of world history, “The Age of Extremes” provides a captivating and comprehensive account of the major events, ideologies, and societal changes that defined the 20th century. Hobsbawm’s engaging writing style and meticulous research make it an ideal choice for those seeking a deep understanding of this pivotal era.

  • Political and Social Science Scholars As a renowned historian, Hobsbawm brings his expertise to bear in providing a scholarly analysis of the political, social, and economic forces at play during this period. His work offers valuable insights and perspectives for researchers and scholars interested in understanding the underlying causes and repercussions of the various global phenomena that took place in the 20th century.

  • Students of International Relations and Global Studies “The Age of Extremes” offers a comprehensive overview of the major geopolitical developments that shaped the 20th century. From the outbreak of World War I to the fall of the Soviet Union, Hobsbawm explores the power struggles, ideological conflicts, and the rise and fall of empires. Students of international relations and global studies will find this book to be an essential resource.

  • Cultural and Intellectual History Enthusiasts Hobsbawm’s examination of the cultural and intellectual responses to the social and political changes of the 20th century makes the book a compelling read for those interested in the intersection of art, literature, and politics during this period. Hobsbawm delves into the works of notable intellectuals and artists of the time, shedding light on their contributions and the larger cultural context they operated within.

  • General Readers Seeking to Understand the Modern World The 20th century was a time of immense upheaval and transformation that continues to shape the world today. “The Age of Extremes” enables general readers to gain a deeper understanding of the influential events, ideologies, and socio-economic shifts that have shaped their own contemporary lives.

In conclusion, “The Age of Extremes” by Eric Hobsbawm is recommended reading for a broad range of audiences, including history enthusiasts, scholars, students, cultural enthusiasts, and general readers seeking to comprehend the complexities of the 20th century. Hobsbawm’s meticulous research, insightful analysis, and engaging writing style make this book a valuable resource for understanding the significant events and forces that continue to impact our modern world.

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