Hobsbawm published his first book in 1948 and went on to write more than 30 publications, including a four-volume history of the ‘long’ 19th and 20th centuries. This ‘Ages’ quartet, starting with The Age of Revolution and concluding with 1994’s The Age of Extremes, has been translated into more than 40 languages and remains among the defining works on the period.
Born to Jewish parents in Egypt in 1917, Hobsbawm moved to Vienna and Berlin before settling in London in 1933. He joined the Communist party at the age of 14, one of the first signs of the sometimes controversial Marxist standpoint that was to run throughout his work. The historian joined Birkbeck College as a lecturer in 1947, beginning a relationship with the institution that was to span most of his life.
Gregory Elliott, historian and author of Hobsbawm: History and Politics (Pluto Press, 2010), said: “More than 50 years ago, before he had published his first authored book, Eric Hobsbawm observed: ‘It is a melancholy illusion of those who write books and articles that the printed word survives. Alas, it rarely does. The vast majority of printed works enter a state of suspended animation within a few weeks or years of publication, from which they are occasionally awakened, for equally short periods, by research students.’ One crude measure of his achievement is that much of his own oeuvre – most obviously, but not exclusively, the Ages tetralogy – has proved a signal exception to this rule, defying fads and fashions. Long may it continue to do so!”.