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4.4 out of 5 stars
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The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848
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on August 10, 2014
The French Revolution is only a secondary theme in this book; the primary theme is the social upheaval and unrest caused by the Industrial Revolution. As a Marxist, Hobsbawm sees this as THE major turning point in history, which unfortunately did not lead to the world-wide revolution that Marxists believed would materialize. Nevertheless, even the conservatives and rulers and "bourgeoisie" sensed that some kind of cataclysmic event was on the horizon and could not be staved off forever. When the revolution did come in 1848, it fizzled out disappointingly, but the process of gradual and incremental reform that the radicals so despised did effectively create a more liberal society. Some of Hobsbawm's other observations are a bit tendentious; as a true Marxist he sees the sole purpose of Christianity as being to keep the lower classes in their place, and he gives to much credit to early developments in social science. But this was still a memorable tour through an important period.
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on April 22, 2012
Eric Hobsbawm is considered by many the greatest historian alive. "The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848" is the first installment of his four-volumes history of modernity. Although written in 1962, it's still fresh, and perhaps even more relevant today in our post-end-of-history era. Since Francis Fukuyama wrote "The End of History and the Last Man" in 1992, almost no one questions liberal democracy and Capitalism, but the Great Recession made dissident voices be heard again.

The main thesis of the book is that modernity was triggered from two Revolutions: The Industrial and the French. The Industrial Revolution created our economic system and the French Revolution the political one. Hobsbawm structures this work not as a narrative, but in two main parts: I) Developments and II) Results. There is no chronicle of events, so if you want to learn, for example, the details of the French Revolution, you better look elsewhere. The advantage of this approach is that most of the book is devoted to analysis, and also that some parts can be read in isolation (like a textbook), especially the chapters in Part II (Results). The big complain I have though (and why it gets 4 stars) is the lack of uniformity in some chapters. There are sections where the author just enumerates statistics from different countries to make his point. Although this may be sometimes necessary, it becomes tedious. On the other hand, there are moments of great "poetic history", section where the narrative flows in harmony with the examinations of events.

Hobsbawm deals not only with political and economic events, but also with the arts and sciences. It's very interesting to discover how many modern sciences were born in this period, including most of the social sciences, geology, and organic chemistry. Although most of this development comes directly from the Enlightenment, there are some accounts of scientists that fully engage in the (political) revolutionary spirit of their time. The story of mathematician Evariste Galois is especially poignant.

The creation of bourgeois Capitalism and the migration of peasantry to the city to work in factories are historical requisites to Marxism. Hobsbawm is a Marxist historian, so expect a great deal of examination of this historical precedent: how early Capitalism already created its conditions for its destruction, according to Marx of course. Although some of this may have sounded outdated a few years ago, it reverberates with great force in modern ears. If the Great Recession has taught us something, is that the problems of Capitalisms are systematic, and not due to lack of fidelity to its original ideology. "The Age of Revolution" has a great deal to teach us on how it all started.
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on July 19, 2017
A powerful weaving together of the history of the industrial and political revolutions in their respective epicenters of Britain and France and the way their shockwaves impact on other global regions such as other European states and empires, India, coastal Africa and Latin America. Detailed analysis is provided of changes in the political economy through these revolutions, including changes in the relation with the land, emergence of an urban proletariat and a middle class and their territorial interdependence through nations and nationalism. With polyglot mastery of an enormous diversity of sources, Hobsbawn also explores the cultural dimensions of the revolutions, in religion and the arts. The book is a tour de force alone, but when read together with the following two books in the historical trilogy, Age of Capital and Age of Empire, you have access to a brilliant synthesis of the history of the "long 19th Century" as Hobsbawn calls it, essential to understanding what has and is happening in the 20th and 21st centuries.
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on July 3, 2012
This is one of those wonderful books about a subject I know well, but that pushes in new directions and yet reviews everything I have struggled to comprehend. It is very rare for me to find such a book, one that makes me feel awestruck all over again for something I have read about for years, renewing my hunger to dig deeper. I finished it, then read it all the way through again, underlining like I used to as an undergraduate. It felt that fresh to me, even though it is about 50 years old and supposedly "marxist". (The only thing I could identify as marxist was an emphasis on class relations, but it fits what was going rather than forcing different kinds of factors into such an analysis. I ended by not being sure what marxist even meant.)

The book is about a double revolution. First, there is a political revolution of profound importance: the French Revolution swept away the old order of aristocratic privilege, opening jobs in government and the military to talent. The traditional hierarchies disappeared, crushed finally by a violent purge of those in power. Many reviewers in the US think that this is misplaced emphasis, that the American Revolution is the one of real significance, but I think Hobsbawm makes a convincing case that it was France's that was most important because it was also a social revolution. The American one left most social structures in place, life went on more or less the same as before, as a free-enterprise society whose hierarchies and privilege already were far more fluid than those in EUrope; its value was in the creation of democratic institutions that could evolve, which also occurred later in Europe. This also meant that, in EUrope, the old certainties died, freeing peasants from hereditary obligations but also at the loss of at least minimal help from property owners or aristocrats - they were free to stay put, migrate to cities, and seek entirely new kinds of careers without traditional protections. It was left to Napoleon to spread these ideas to the rest of Europe by force, beyond merely the realm of ideas.

The second revolution is industrial and perfectly symbiotic with the French socio-political revolution: it was a new means of production and organization of both the economy and society, behind that of a capitalist system. A new class arose, the bourgeois, who invested in business and accumulated capital, basing their livelihood not on agricultural resources and property ownership, but on an ever-changing "market" for goods. At the very beginning, Hobsbawm identifies three parts that fit in Britain: 1) the invention of the textile industry; 2) a rise in steel production, principally for new machines and railroads; 3) the creation of a new market of consumers, who will buy the new goods and find employments making them. It represented a huge expansion in trade. The new economic actors - bourgeois managers and their working class counterparts - fundamentally changed the urban landscape.

Interestingly, Hobsbawm also convinced me that the visions of rising living standards - now such standard fare in the political salesmanship - was impossible to foresee, particularly at the beginning. That means that the system survived by brute force rather than good will. As markets matured and the original textile industries were no longer profitable, it was the workers who paid in the form of reduced salaries and living standards, often in the most horrible of urban slums. This explains the rise of socialism, also coeval with the industrial revolution, a radically different means of ownership of production. It reached a crisis point in the 1840s with a major depression, of which the Irish potato famine was merely one example, leading directly into the transnational insurrectionary convulsions of 1848; its consequences were only worked out after WW1 in more democratic regimes, but also in the birth of the USSR, the radical communist experiment.

These are the core ideas of the book. But Hobsbawm doesn't stop there: he also explains the intellectual currents of the time in a way that fits with his core ideas. This is about the transition from reason, particularly as that of enlightened despots, to shape societies. The ideas that rise in their place are those of the romantics, with their respect for a nascent idea of the unconscious, the view of society as an organic construct that evolves in multiple directions, and the relativism that is replacing the certainties of a mechanistic worldview of near-platonic ideals. These changes came with the sweeping away of traditional social structures and certainties, in particular the consolations of pervasive religious fundamentalism.

This is a valuable analysis of historical forces. It is not a narrative and there isn't enough for me about the diplomacy of the time. (I wanted a better explanation of Metternich's system, for example.) But these are available elsewhere. The synthesis at the heart of this book got me thinking about all of this with excitement. I will have to do more research into the period. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm. This deserves a slow, careful read for rich rewards.
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on October 1, 2017
This is good book to read and understand how French Revolution and 1848 European Revolution shaped Karl Marx theory of communism, and how the workers revolution took place in Russia as world divided between East and West political economy of capitalism vs communism.
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on May 5, 2017
I'm a casual history reader, and I read this book while reading Phillip Dwyer's Napoleon saga, and it really helped me to understand the social, economic, and politic context of the time. It is very clear and interesting.
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on October 8, 2017
Not an easy read but certainly worth the effort. Unsurpassed blending of the issues of the era.
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on July 17, 2016
The Age of Revolution is an excellent way of taking your understanding of history to a higher level. Absolutely recommended
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on May 5, 2018
Very good
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on August 18, 2017
Excelent
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