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Social History & The Man

The Bard from Bengal (India) had once exclaimed: “I shall remain useless and frustrated!” However, some of the Historians are of the opinion that only the frustrated people could become the best chroniclers of History! “Losers make the best Historians,” stated Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm (June 9, 1917 – October 1, 2012), one of the best-known Historians of our time. One might as well ask him as to what exactly made him frustrated, and how he had such a phenomenal success in the Study of History… The noted British Historian of the Rise of Industrial Capitalism, Socialism and Nationalism seems to have given a fitting reply to that in a single sentence: “I am a Communist.

Eric Hobsbawm

After joining the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1936, Hobsbawm had been active in politics for the next five decades. It is hence, he did not just experience the frustration of an individual or a group, but also witnessed the collapse of a worldview or a philosophical idea. The search for light in the darkness led him towards the Study of History in a systematic manner! The three-volume book on History, penned by Hobsbawm, teaches us to re-read about the happenings between 1789 and 1991. In fact, some phrases of Hobsbawm have brought a new twist in the Study of History. For example, the ‘Primitive Rebels’ of the 17th Century, the ‘Long 19th Century’, and the ‘Short 20th Century’ help one how to comprehend the history of the last few centuries in the shortest manner possible!

So, it is quite natural for one to have interests in the rich biography of Hobsbawm, who had spent 95 years in this world, and used to believe that life, theory, experience and feeling were closely linked to each other. Richard J Evans’ newly-published book ‘Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History‘ (Oxford University Press, 785 pp.) is a very informative one. Some say that if there weren’t so many detailed discussions about Hobsbawm’s childhood, adolescence, and family life, the volume of the publication would be less. However, it is not easy for all to accept this criticism! It is important for the readers to get a clear idea about that period of time when Europe had opened its doors to Jewish families for the first time in the 1880’s. Evans’ book narrates the lifestyle and education of a Secular Liberal Jewish family in Britain, and also the struggle of the Communist Party in 19th Century Europe.

With not much of an idea about these all, it, seemingly, is more than difficult for one to have an understanding about a person who had penned down the History of four centuries…

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