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The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991

(Modern History #4)

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  5,001 ratings  ·  265 reviews
Dividing the century into the Age of Catastrophe, 1914-1950, the Golden Age, 1950-1973, and the Landslide, 1973-1991, Hobsbawm marshals a vast array of data into a volume of unparalleled inclusiveness, vibrancy, and insight, a work that ranks with his classics The Age of Empire and The Age of Revolution. Includes 32 pages of photos.
Paperback, 627 pages
Published February 13th 1996 by Vintage Books (first published 1994)
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howl of minerva
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: you
So that rounds off Hobsbawm's tetralogy on the 19th and 20th centuries. 2000-odd pages of sustained historical brilliance that have changed the way I comprehend the world. In the absence of gods (and our inability to step outside of history to view it objectively) the nearest that we can come to a god's eye view is human genius.

Hobsbawm is undoubtedly such a genius, as evidenced by the universal praise this series has received from writers across the political spectrum. "I continue to believe t
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
History can be written in different ways. Barbara Tuchman, for example, chooses a theme (The Proud Tower) or a person (A Distant Mirror) around which to tell of the times. School textbooks simply follow a timeline, a guarantee not only of boredom but that the reader will learn next to nothing. Eric Hobsbawm writes with the intent of a comprehensive understanding of the times. His technique is to look upon history as a jewel of many facets, each of which is worth viewing and all of which are nece ...more
I remember, a long time ago I read this when it was first published in 1994 - I was a social history student at Swansea Uni - and my lecturer told me this book was a 'departure for Hobsbawm'. I never quite or fully understood what she meant back all those years ago. My second re-read, and I still do not understand what she really meant, although being older and allegedly more wiser, I still fail to fully grasp her meaning. However, what I think she meant was Eric Hobsbawms stance on Soviet Russi ...more
Mesut Bostancı
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Usually the only people tackling long general histories are conservatives. The Marxists are too busy arguing over minutiae to lend their worldview to great spans of time. So Hobsbawm offers something that was definitely missing. Even though I knew most of the events of which he spoke, he offers sort of grandfatherly perspective to what the hell happened over the last 100 years, and makes the young solipsistic leftist like me feel better, not so cast adrift in history. As long as it's not conserv ...more
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: 20th Century Historians, World Historians, History Students
Recommended to Michael by: Karen Hagemann
It is fortunate that Hobsbawm wrote this book as early as 1994, when the “fall of Communism” still appeared to be a world-shattering event, because, more than anything else, this is what he documents. I doubt that any historian, writing a “grand synthesis” of contemporary history today, would place so much emphasis on that event. It probably helps that Hobsbawm was himself a Marxist historian who had supported the USSR during its most “extreme” period – that of the leadership of Josef Stalin – a ...more
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, economics
The Age of Extremes: A History of the World 1914-1991 takes as its subject matter what its author, Eric J. Hobsbawm, calls "the short twentieth century," ranging from the start of World War One to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

An avowed communist in his sympathies, Hobsbawm nonetheless writes a remarkably balanced history of his times, with interesting sidelights on the art and science of the century.

In general, I prefer Tony Judt's Postwar for some of the same period, though I like Hobsbawm'
Justin Evans
Aug 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-etc
A great appendix to Hobsbawm's history of the long nineteenth century (French Revolution to WWI), and a pretty decent place to start for 20th century history I would say. No complaints. And i'm a real complainer.
Steve Cooper
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While the author comes to the conclusion that people generally have better lives when their governments' redistribution policies prevent significant wealth inequality and are widely accepted by the populace, the analysis Hobsbawm employs to arrive at that conclusion is not limited by any religious, ideological or economic dogma.

Not only does the book predict many of the phenomena we're encountering now, but its focus on the actors and forces with the most persistent and profound presence in hist
Chelsea Szendi
Feb 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The first time I read this, I was a fussy new grad student, given to pick on anything. On second reading, this book simply amazes me. Bedtime reading for the kids.
Justin Michael James Dell
A Not-So-Short (Tendentious) History of the Short Twentieth Century

Historiography has come a long way since the age of positivism, when it was conceived as the practice of collating historical "facts" and letting them "speak for themselves", of telling history "as it happened," to paraphrase empiricist Leopold von Ranke. The purview of the historian's profession has now expanded to encompass the pursuit and articulation of a deeper analysis and explication of the meaning of historical facts
Federico Damian
Oct 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Not a history book

Hosbawm's "The Age Of Extremes..." is, best described as "A collection of Marxist Thesis on the 20th Century" than a history book. Perhaps an even better title is "A collection of Hosbawm's highly biased comment on a few 20th century historical facts".

Over the course of its roughly 400-500 pages, Hosbawm does his best make the non-communist (read: capitalist) nations look like complete monsters. He is, of course, right in that the capitalist nations often commited attrocities
Aug 11, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book extremely difficult to read. Hobsbawm was born in Egypt to Viennese parents who spoke English in the home, and his syntax seems to have been permanently ruined by the experience. For example, what are we to make of this sentance? For if divorce, illegitimate, births and the rise of the single-parent (i.e. overwhelmingly the single-mother) household indicated a crisis in the relation between the sexes, the rise of a specific, and extraordinarily powerful youth culture indicated ...more
Nov 03, 2011 added it
Shelves: history, school
I'm not giving this book a rating for a couple of reasons: I didn't read the whole lot, and it wasn't what I was hoping for.

I was hoping for a book to give me a good overview of the bits of the 20th century I need to teach my yr11 course. It didn't do that; not that much on WW1, and little on the early part of the Cold War, although some interesting and useful comments on both. It said nothing about the suffragette movement, which was disappointing, although I guess it didn't fit into his theme
Lejla Ahmetagić
I completely agree with Guardian review: A masterpiece.
Bevan Lewis
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
I started at the end, chronologically speaking with this addendum to Eric Hobsbawm's much admired "Age of" sequence. The book by its nature is more than just historical analysis, with personal observation and reflection informing its analysis.
On its own terms it is an excellent book for gaining an understanding of cause and effect in the twentieth century. It is not a narrative and those less familiar with the events would be better with Martin Gilbert or John Roberts' efforts. Hobsbawm certainl
Matt Allen
Oct 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
I read this with a ton of hope: I heard this guy was a british national treasure and one of the most famous living historians. But the only thing I took from the book was his (I think accurate) theory that the 20th century was "short" and could be described as the period between the start of WWI and the end of the cold war. The rest of it was pretty forgettable. I think he's one of those historians that only makes sense if you've already spent a lifetime reading history and know the landscape pr ...more
Pavel Bureš
Dec 21, 2016 rated it did not like it
Well, as I don´t like them totalitarian ideas, this history book by a Communist was not very appetising. Some parts are rather disgusting.
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book's only rival(known to me)in historical writing, is the previous tome of the series: The Age of Empire. Hobsbawm sets himself the task, of explaining why history took the course it did. His chapters on : The breakdown of patterns of social expectation, the retreat of economic and political liberalism, and the transformation of the arts in the 20th century, are superb. The same encomium should be extended to his prologue: The bird's eye view, and his epilogue, were many of the events hap ...more
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Hobsbawm is a very interesting writer. I thoroughly enjoyed large parts of his political and military chapters, I may not agree with all of his points but they were interesting nontheless. It was fascinating to read the thoughts and ideas of a well-read marxist historian on the century he lived through. But some of his passages on art, science and social issues (particularly those pertaining to homosexuality) were troubling and bordering on reactionary. Especially passages such as this one about ...more
Gaurav Moghe
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
The Age of Extremes, which covers most of 20th century American and European international politics, is a good read for any one interested in knowing at an intermediate level why things happened the way they did in Euro-US politics.

The 20th century is marked by 4 extremely important events: World Wars, the Cold War, and the fall of Berlin wall. Most of the contemporary world politics is a result of these events. I approached this book to get a slightly better and academic view of the events men
Patrick Bair
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Hobsbawm's historic "trilogy in four volumes" is essential for any student of history, and enjoyable reading even for those who aren't. While each "Age of" volume is independent, there is nothing comparable to reading all four in order. And while each was vastly informative, I think I enjoyed his final work, "The Age of Extremes," about "the short Twentieth Century" (1914-1990), most. It's amazing to me how little we know about the very time in which we live, but Hobsbawm brings a depth and brea ...more
Tony Gualtieri
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Hobsbawm is a provocative guide to the "Short Twentieth Century." He is usually labeled a Marxist historian, but from reading his tetralogy, of which this is the final volume, I see him more as a writer not in thrall to capitalist triumphalism. He's certainly not a free marketeer, his loathing for economists is palpable, but neither is he an apologist for Stalin. His chapter on the last years of the USSR, analyzing what was gained and lost in its fall, is a masterpiece of historical perception, ...more
Praveen SR
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A sweeping history of the "short twentieth century", of the tumultuous period between a World War and the dissolution of Soviet Union. As is typical of Hobsbawm, we are not limited not just to the political changes of the era, but everything from the change in the nature of labour, the myriad changes in the sphere of culture and technological and scientific advancements, for which the wars in between had a major role to play. It is not quite easy to fit the whole century into a 600 page book, bu ...more
Jun 29, 2014 added it
Shelves: started
It seems as if Hobsbawm was too confused or dishonest about the goals and accomplishments of communism to give it to us straight in chapter 2. It's possible that's because he was an old man. But it seems he'd had a lifetime to consider communism and hadn't quite strayed from the idea that world-wide revolution was still the answer. I'm not interested in muddled thinking, or diplomacy at gunpoint and his meandering analysis would have snapped my already broken bag of books even further.
Richie Loria
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Age of Extremes ranks high on my list of favorite histories. Remarkable in its capacity to reveal the relationships between seemingly disparate events and spaces - who if not Hobsbawm to encompass nearly-the-whole of the 20th century...

Jan 13, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this because I had to, otherwise I would have quit right in the beginning. Dense, hard to read, boring and essentially an extremely long eulogy to the USSR (which if you believe Hobsbawm was both benevolent and basically harmless) and Communism in general.
May 17, 2019 rated it liked it
"There can be no serious doubt that in the late 1980s and early 1990s an era in world history ended and a new one began."

The major strength of Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes is its role in re-establishing the place of the USSR and communism in the history of the twentieth century. This is important not just in terms of the history of politics, economics or warfare but in terms of the history of ideas: certain ideas were possible or gained currency only because of the existence of the USSR (and i
Garret Giblin
Mar 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Not up to the standard of his 19th century trilogy
Jun 25, 2015 rated it liked it
I didn't have enough patience to just sit down and read this (it is 600ish pages after all) but I did read about half of it and then heavily skimmed the rest. There are so many little gem paragraphs in here, though...I really should read it for real one of these days. The trouble is that it is a bit more sprawling and unwieldy than his great 19th century trilogy. Hobsbawm did such a good job breaking that trilogy up into component parts, and the books came across as courses, each one broken into ...more
The business of historians, Hobsbawm reminds us, is to remember what others forget, a task carrying much more weight in a world where contemporary experience is persistently present and lacking any organic relation (goodreads, hello?) to the public past of our times.

This book, as proof of the above point, is my first and urgently needed reading of a concise history of the Twentieth Century. Hobsbawm's Maxist position is most obviously apparent not from the balance of his arguments, which strike
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Eric Hobsbawm, a self-confessed "unrepentant communist", was professor emeritus of economic and social history of the University of London at Birkbeck. He wrote many acclaimed historical works, including a trilogy on the nineteenth-century: The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital, and The Age of Empire, and was the author of The Age of Extremes: The Short 20th Century 1914-1991 and his recent au ...more

Other books in the series

Modern History (4 books)
  • The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848
  • The Age of Capital, 1848-1875
  • The Age of Empire, 1875-1914

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