Eric Hobsbawm: Historical cosmonaut
David Kynaston on a 'national treasure' whose politics provoked endless bitterness

Kynaston, David

Publisher:  Times Literary Supplement
Date Written:  05/03/2019
Year Published:  2019  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23579

Review of 'A Life In History' a biography of Eric Hobsbawm by Richard J. Evans.




Noting with satisfaction that "the established if unofficial orthodoxies of academic conservatism" were "increasingly on the defensive", he accused those orthodoxies of having "confined the field of general history to the chronological narrative, supplemented here and there with ad hoc explanations, of the upper ranges of politics, diplomacy, war and to some extent cultural life". Instead, he looked forward to the flourishing of a radically different approach, one forged on the terrain "where history, economics and sociology meet" - and where "ideologies have replaced nations as the chief disturbers of scholarly equanimity". He did not promise it would be easy. For the historian, "to explain the changing texture of a web is technically much harder than to trace a thread"; while for readers, the new history was likely to be "a very much more difficult subject" than for "their fathers and grandfathers".

That prospectus behind him, Hobsbawm almost exactly a year later published his first major book: The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789–1848. "The object of this book", he declared at the outset, "is not detached narrative, but interpretation." So indeed it was – displaying interpretative skills of the highest order, with the heaviest analytical guns trained on the French Revolution and the British Industrial Revolution – but there was also a very distinctive flavour to the text.

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