Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the 20th Century by Eric Hobsbawm - review by John Gray

John Gray

Evasion Tactics

Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the 20th Century

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Speaking with the Italian journalist Antonio Polito in an extended interview published as The New Century (2000), Eric Hobsbawm explained why he confined his work as a historian primarily to the 19th century. Writing 20th-century history would have required him to deal with the Soviet Union, which he was not inclined to do:

It is clear that scholars who were critical of communism have less hesitation in studying phenomena like the gulags, while a communist historian would certainly prefer to avoid it … I have tended to avoid dealing with it directly, because I knew that if I had, I would have had to have written things that would have been difficult for a communist to say without affecting my political activity and the feelings of my comrades. This is why I chose to become a nineteenth-century historian rather than a twentieth-century one.

In terms of the study of history Hobsbawm’s decision was highly productive. Forming his celebrated trilogy on the ‘long nineteenth century’ from the French Revolution up to the outbreak of the Great War, The Age of Revolution (1962), The Age of Capital (1975) and The Age of Empire (1987) are

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