Eric Hobsbawm, the son of a Jewish tradesman, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on 9th June, 1917. After the First World War ended his parents moved to Austria. By the time he was thirteen, both his parents had died. He went to live with his aunt in Berlin.
When Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, what was left of Hobsbawn’s family moved to London. He later recalled: “In Germany there wasn’t any alternative left. Liberalism was failing. If I’d been German and not a Jew, I could see I might have become a Nazi, a German nationalist. I could see how they’d become passionate about saving the nation. It was a time when you didn’t believe there was a future unless the world was fundamentally transformed.”
Hobsbawn did well in his English school and he won a scholarship to study history at King’s College, Cambridge. While a student joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. He also edited the student weekly, Granta.
On the outbreak of the Second World War Hobsbawn joined theBritish Army. Despite speaking German, French, Spanish and Italian fluently he was turned down for intelligence work. He served with the Royal Engineers and later with the Educational Corps.
After the war Hobsbawm returned to Cambridge University where he completed a PhD on the Fabian Society. In 1947 he became a lecturer at Birkbeck College. Hobsbawn joined E. P. Thompson,Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, A. L. Morton, Raphael Samuel,George Rudé, John Saville, Dorothy Thompson, Edmund Dell,Victor Kiernan and Maurice Dobb in forming the Communist Party Historians’ Group. In 1952 members of the group founded the journal, Past and Present. Over the next few years the journal pioneered the study of working-class history.
John Saville later wrote: “The Historian’s Group had a considerable long-term influence upon most of its members. It was an interesting moment in time, this coming together of such a lively assembly of young intellectuals, and their influence upon the analysis of certain periods and subjects of British history was to be far-reaching.”
Hobsbawm’s first book,Primitive Rebels, was published in 1959. This was followed by The Age of Revolution (1962), Labouring Men (1964), Industry and Empire (1968), Bandits (1969). In 1969 Hobsbawn co-wrote Captain Swing with George Rudé.
Hobsbawm, unlike most of his friends, remained a member of theCommunist Party of Great Britain. However, he did protest against the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 andCzechoslovakia in 1968. In 1970 he became professor of history at Birkbeck College, a post he held for twelve years.
Other books by Hobsbawn include Revolutionaries (1973), The Age of Capital (1975), History of Marxism (1978), Workers (1984),The Age of Empire (1987), Nations and Nationalism (1990), The Age of Extremes (1994), On History (1997), Uncommon People(1998), The New Century (1999), Interesting Times (2002) andGlobalisation, Democracy and Terrorism (2008).
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