Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Eric Hobsbawm is considered by many to be our greatest living historian. Robert Heilbroner, writing about Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes 1914-1991 said, “I know of no other account that sheds as much light on what is now behind us, and thereby casts so much illumination on our possible futures.” Skeptical, endlessly curious, and almost contemporary with the terrible “short century” which is the subject of Age of Extremes, his most widely read book, Hobsbawm has, for eighty-five years, been committed to understanding the “interesting times” through which he has lived.
Hitler came to power as Hobsbawm was on his way home from school in Berlin, and the Soviet Union fell while he was giving a seminar in New York. He was a member of the Apostles at King’s College, Cambridge, took E.M. Forster to hear Lenny Bruce, and demonstrated with Bertrand Russell against nuclear arms in Trafalgar Square. He translated for Che Guevara in Havana, had Christmas dinner with a Soviet master spy in Budapest and an evening at home with Mahalia Jackson in Chicago. He saw the body of Stalin, started the modern history of banditry and is probably the only Marxist asked to collaborate with the inventor of the Mars bar.
Hobsbawm takes us from Britain to the countries and cultures of Europe, to America (which he appreciated first through movies and jazz), to Latin America, Chile, India and the Far East. With Interesting Times, we see the history of the twentieth century through the unforgiving eye of one of its most intensely engaged participants, the incisiveness of whose views we cannot afford to ignore in a world in which history has come to be increasingly forgotten.
the West End with the newly popular Gaggia Espresso machines, but a real Soho café, in which people could discuss theoretical issues, play chess, consume strudel and hold political meetings in a back room, as on the continent in the days before innocence was lost. The profits of the café śwould pay for the Review itself, whose offices would be above it. The Partisan would express both the new spirit of politics and the new spirit of the arts. It would be designed by the cutting-edge young
sub-editor and an in-built compass. And, with all his warmth, charm, humour and rage, it left him in some ways insecure and vulnerable. Like so many of his other works, The Making had begun as the first chapter of a short textbook on British labour history from 1790 to 1945, and had just got out of hand. Within a few years he suspended the remarkable studies of eighteenth-century society begun after The Making had turned him temporarily into an orthodox academic, which did not fit his style, to
during my whole career as a university teacher, I preferred general to specialist courses. Indeed, my books on general historical subjects either grew out of student lectures or, after more specialized origins, were tested in student lectures. The satisfaction of a teacher’s job comes essentially from relations with individuals, but these form only a small part of the very large body of men and women with notebooks in lecture theatres, the vast pile of examination scripts or term papers that
inferiority by British workers. As it was 1960, we discussed the presidential election. Jimmy Hoffa of the teamsters (truck-drivers), the target of Bobby Kennedy and the FBI, was thinking of throwing his union’s vote behind Nixon rather than Kennedy. The teamsters’ goodwill was essential to both labour and capital in California, but Hoffa’s reputation was bad. Bridges, who felt no loyalty to either ‘bourgeois party’, saw this as a purely pragmatic choice. Was Hoffa not, I asked, in the hands of
wife’s peace of mind, worked on a German-language newspaper thirty miles down the Danube in what we called Pressburg and the Hungarians called Pozsony, and what had then become Bratislava, the chief Slovak city in the new Czechoslovak Republic. (It is now the capital of an internationally sovereign Slovakia.) Except for the expulsion of former Hungarian officials, between the wars it had not yet been ethnically cleansed of its polyglot and polycultural population of Germans, Hungarians, Czechs