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Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz Paperback – September 1, 1999

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Eric Hobsbawm, the eminent English labor historian, is concerned here with "the sort of people whose names are usually unknown to anyone outside their family and neighbors"--the machinists, grocers, bus conductors, and bartenders who make many small worlds go around. In a series of essays, he looks into the role of shoemakers in European politics (cobblers being a particularly left-leaning lot), the influence of Luddite machine breakers on the labor movement, the abortive union of students and trade unionists in the May 1968 uprising in France, and jazz music, which he considers to be an idiom of the laboring class. These unknown people, in Hobsbawm's view, have made uncommon contributions to their times and are too little honored, even by the international celebration called May Day, the origins of which he traces in an especially fine essay. --Gregory MacNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

These 26 essays reveal the intellectual girders the late historian used in four decades of publishing social and political analyses in support of common, working people. He shows a sometimes puckish appetite for shattering facile definitions with deadly buckshot, as in his 1952 "The Machine-Breakers," in which he takes aim at the image of the Luddites as visionless machine haters, instead calling their actions "collective bargaining by riot." In "Birth of a Holiday," he cites May Day as an "entirely unofficial movement of poor men and women" celebrated in 107 countries; in an interesting aside he notes that the first May Day in Germany was commemorated by a plaque with Karl Marx on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other, thereby uniting the socialist labor movement with democracy. With the same combination of insight and trenchant factual digression, Hobsbawm (Age of Extremes 1914-1991) faces the cosmic questions ("Revolution and Sex," "Peasants and Politics") as well as powerful individuals such as the mafioso Salvatore Giuliano and Roy Cohn, who he says was "a crook because he liked to be one." Hobsbawm concludes with seven deft and delicious chapters on jazz, linking the symbol of "New Orleans" to an anti-commercial, anti-racist phenomenon "located on the borders between the New Deal and the Communist Party." Jazz lovers will savor his essays on Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and other greats. But whatever the subject matter, Hobsbawm offers energetic, convincing intellectual adventures.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565845595
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565845596
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,287,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By T. I. Odon on December 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Its a very beautiful piece of work.It doesnt just follow the paces of some forgotten people, but it also paints their historic time. The chapters about the Vietnam war, the relationship between socialism and art and the one about the role of women in XIX century are brilliant. This book shows you things you wont find in a common history book.Its rich, honest and true.
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Format: Paperback
The best essay in this collection is "Victorian Values", on the skilled-worker labor movement of England's 19th century.
The superficial contemporary story is that British workers were lazy and bloody-minded sods who built into British industry a variety of rules which they insisted upon while their country failed in the 1970s to compete.
There is some truth in this very shallow story, for by the late 1970s, it was true that many English workers had been driven crazy by the matching bloody-mindedness of the toffs in charge and their matching lack of imagination. One of Meg Thatcher's unsung accomplishments happens to be giving some of the most egregious examples of the upper class the boot.
But the real story is here, in Hobsbawm's essay Victorian Values.
Skilled men in Britain in the 19th century were justly proud of their status. They after all bent metal and other recalcitrant materials (in ways we no longer teach the young, allowing computers to do the job) and formed the railways which at first frightened the toffs (the Duke of Wellington himself was astonished that a thing could go so fast) and which the upper crust then took for granted.
Their "Victorian Values" weren't, on Hobsbawm's account, bloody-mindedness. They were part of being sober or teetotal, industrious, church-going and caring for their families.
That is: the man who thought it a natural law that he should have some of his employer's time, at the close of business, to properly care for his own tools was a man who could ask justly for this time because he also went to church and took care of his family.
Contrast the post-modern scene. Employers today refuse to get lured into time-consuming debate about natural justice, whether with unions or piecemeal.
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