One of the great secrets of success in England is longevity. Only live to be eighty, as Evelyn Waugh once observed, and you will be ‘assumed into that odd circle of ancient savants and charlatans whom the Sovereign delights to honour and the popular press treats with some semblance of reverence’. Little can Eric Hobsbawm have realised how he would one day come to illustrate that truth. At eighty-two, this remarkable historian, who is also the Last Bolshevik, finds himself garlanded with honours (French, Italian, Hungarian, Brazilian, American), which culminated two years ago when the Sovereign was delighted to make him a Companion of Honour, no less. He is also treated with more than a semblance of reverence by sections of the press, and has, indeed, become a great savant of the Left.
This latest book is thoroughly reverential. It consists of the transcripts of lengthy conversations between ‘the best-known living historian in the world’ (as The Times has apparently called him) and Antonio Polito, London correspondent for the Repubblica of Rome. And a very rum affair ‘Hobsbawm’s table talk’ is: an exercise