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Eric Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria in 1917 and educated in Austria, Germany and England. He taught at Birkbeck College, University of London, and then at the New School for Social Research in New York. In addition to "The Age of Revolution," "The Age of Capital," "The Age of Empire" and "The Age of Extremes," his books include "Bandits," "Revolutionaries," "Uncommon People," and his memoir "Interesting Times." Eric Hobsbawm died in 2012.

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Hobsbawm, now 80 and among the most distinguished of living historians, reprints 21 of his essays and lectures that are frankly Marxist in background and seemingly sermons for the dwindling brethren. Still, there is a challenging if bleak wisdom in all of them that goes beyond what Hobsbawm (The Age of Extremes, 1914- 1991) concedes is a failed political movement but remains, he claims, a valid working tool for historians. Quotable gems leap from his pages: "Arguments about counterfactual alternatives cannot be settled by evidence," he contends, "since evidence is about what happened and hypothetical situations did not happen." A major theme for Hobsbawm is the ideological abuse of history perpetrated by those who blur the borders between recorded reality and fiction, something he deplores also as postmodernist practice. Yet, recognizing that the desire to restore or to pull down a medieval quarter or a Stalin statue may be more symbolic than effective as history, he observes that a facsimile is "a form of magic which, by restoring a small but emotionally charged part of a lost past, somehow restores the whole." History, then, is not merely for the historian: "It takes two to learn the lessons of history or anything else; one to give the information, the other to listen." A Cambridge historian educated in interwar Europe, Hobsbawm has lived his contemporary history and makes an effective case here that it should transcend documented narrative, that eye-witness accounts have immediacy. (Sept.)

Eric Hobsbawm surveys the writings of modern historians with the magisterial gaze of a man who has seen both the rise of Hitler and the fall of Communism.
--THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

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