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The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 Paperback – February 13, 1996


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The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 + The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 + The Age of Capital: 1848-1875
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 13, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679730052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679730057
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a vivid chronicle bristling with unorthodox views and fresh insights, British historian Hobsbawm divides the period from the outbreak of WWI to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. into three phases. The "Age of Catastrophe" (1914-47), marked by two world wars, the crumbling of colonial empires, the spread of communism and the near-breakdown of the capitalist system, ended only after the liberal West and the Soviet Union forged a temporary, bizarre alliance to defeat Hitler. Rivalry between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. dominated the ensuing "Golden Age" (1947-73), yet Hobsbawm (emeritus professor at the University of London and professor of politics at Manhattan's New School for Social Research) argues that despite Cold War rhetoric, the superpowers essentially accepted the division of the world and sought long-term peaceful coexistence. The Golden Age's real significance, he maintains, lies in explosive growth of the world economy, technological revolution and, for most of the globe, a social revolution marked by death of the peasantry, mass urbanization, the spread of literacy and the primacy of individualism over traditional constraints. The "Crisis Decades" (1973-present) have brought mass unemployment, severe cyclical slumps and a widening abyss between rich and poor nations. Hobsbawm weaves into his tapestry scientific advances, the decline of both avant-garde and classic high art and the disintegration of social relationships amid rampant individualism. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

British historian Hobsbawm is most noted for his three-volume history of the "long 19th century" (1789-1914). Here he turns his attention to what he terms the "short 20th century" ( 1914-1991), which roughly coincides with his own life. It also corresponds to the lifespan of Soviet Communism, which naturally receives a major share of attention in this account. But Hobsbawm covers ideas more than events in this book, which is international in scope. In a work addressed to "the non-academic reader with a general interest in the modern world," he assimilates mountains of information from all over the century and tries to arrange it into a cohesive whole. The result is certainly not light reading, but it is a book that most libraries will need.
Gary Williams, Southeastern Ohio Regional Lib., Caldwell
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I strongly recommend all four books as required reading for anyone who wishes to understand how we got to this point in History.
Umesh Vyas
Hobsbawm, who is admittedly a prolific writer, invalidates any thesis he would have liked to present in this book by using marxist philosophy in writing history.
W.T. Oosterveld
Hobsbawn combines crack knowledge of historical details with a will to look at the big picture, and of the political and cultural trends which paint it.
Klaus Stiefel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 73 people found the following review helpful By M. B. Alcat on February 2, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I recommend this book to everyone who wishes to understand (or at least begin to do so) the 20th century... In my opinion, that is an imperative, because if we don't understand our past, we won't be able to see our present clearly, and we will also be deprived from a good perspective regarding our future. As Hobsbwam says, things "can only be understood as part of a particular historical context".

In "The Age of Extremes", Hobsbawm's explains us his idea that the 20th century began in 1914 (with the outbreak of World WarI), and ended in 1991 (with the collapse of the USSR). That is the reason why he calls it "the short century". He divides that "short century" in three parts: an age of catastrophe (from 1914 to the end of World War II), a golden age (1947 - 1973) and the Landslide (1973 - 1991).

Hobsbawm not only delves into politics, but also into economics, technology, and art, all with a profound knowledge of the subject and a caustic wit that I find irresistible. Yes, of course that there are a lot of history books regarding the 20th century. As a matter of fact, I've read many of them... But this is still my favorite, because it manages to both interesting and clear, entertaining and useful.

Belen Alcat
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a really impressive performance by this distinguished historian. Hobsbawm seems to know everything about the 20th century, has actually lived through most of it and writes from the combined perspective of a remarkably accomplished scholar and direct observer of events. Readers should be aware that this book is a sequel to his impressive trilogy on the 19th century, The Age or Revolution, The Age of Capital, and The Age of Empire. In those books, Hobsbawm followed two key themes, the impact of industrial capitalism on European and world history, and the persistence through the 19th century of the revolutionary tradition that begins with the French Revolution. Readers should be aware also that this book is not a convential narrative overview but follows these major themes with considerable analysis. Some readers (see some reviews below) are put off by Hobsbawm's marxian (not the same as Marxist) approach. This approach, however, is a powerful tool for making sense of the complexities of the past century. Hobsbawm is an avowed Marxist but his work is not doctrinaire in any sense. In this book, for example, he remarks that the 19th century really was a century of progress, both material and moral. Not the statement of a doctrinaire leftist. His erudition is remarkable but not showy and employed only as needed to carry forward his narrative and analysis. This book is never boring, always compelling and challenging. The focus of this book is very much on Europe and North America. Hobsbawm is explicitly, unashamedly, and appropriately 'eurocentric' in his emphasis on these regions as the key theatres for the actions of 20th century history. The best overviews of complex historical topics combine narrative with thematic analysis as a way of unifying the narrative.Read more ›
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Rodney J. Szasz on August 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
Hobesbawm is the master of looking at history in general terms, extrapolating general trends and terms in a way that are so obvious but generally overlooked by most mainstream historians. Like the fact that in the span of two generations a university education spread from less than 1% of the population of the Western industrialised countries to more than 40% of the population. In an even shorter period of time in 1930 1 in 4 people worked on a farm. Now 1 in 100 do. WIth a little reflection we can see the breakneck pace of the the speed of this short 20th Century (1914 - 1991).

Although the above may seem banal it has implications for the entire planet and is reflective of the changes in the way the world feeds itself to the way that industry organises itself around the processes of efficiency.

Hobesbawm also notes the reoccuring theme of the fate of what used to be called the industrial working class and how "class" as a term has become increasingly meaningless -- with modern well pampered industrialised union workers voting for Bush, because they have more in common with him than they do with with those in society who are truly powerless -- such as those comprising the unfortunate term -- the underclass. This is a constant bugbear for those who, clinging to traditional marxist interpretations, think that the underclass and the working class are and should be, one and same. It should also serve as pause for consideration for anyone who simply considers Hobesbawn a "Marxist Historian" -- he may be, but I never found a shred of evidence to butress this supposed self-evident truth.

Hobsbawm also points out the rise of the underclass has been in direct proportion with the rise of industrial and economic efficiency and the importance of knowledge-based industries.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By isala on September 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Fukuyama claimed that with the fall of the Eastern Block, history was over. Wrong, says Hobsbavn - only an epoch has ended. The short twentieth century, the age dominated by war. Hobsbavn revolutionised history by refusing to adhere to the somewhat artificial restraint of centuries. Instead he has split up the ninetenth and twentieth centuries in four distinct epochs. And does it work! This was his fourth book on the subject, and it created quite a stir when it came out.

In retrospect it seems obvious to say that up until 1991 we lived in an age that were stillsuffering from the effects of the first world war. Hobsbawn even claims that the first world war did not really end until 1991. Now we have entered an era which is ruled by other historical processes.

Hobsbawn is a socialist, but he does not rub it in, in this book at least. Rather, he, for me at least, comes out as a very clear thinker. He is not stuck in ideology, especially when he praises Ronald Reagan, or the northern European monarchies. His ideas about art during the age of extremes are interesting, but are bound to provoke; are the only operas of note during the twentieth century really just King Ubu and Peter Grimes?
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