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Home Uncategorized Believe in the Movement

Believe in the Movement

Marc Mulholland
Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History, by Richard J Evans, Little, Brown, 785 pp, £35, ISBN: 978-140877418 Richard J Evans, the author of this hugely readable and highly impressive biography, has written a brilliant trilogy on the rise and fall of the Third Reich, a heavyweight study of German crime and retribution, an excellent general history of nineteenth century Europe, a devastating rebuttal of Holocaust “revisionism”, an important book on historical method and – early in his lustrous career – innovative work on international feminism. While Evans knew Eric Hobsbawm, he never felt close to him. Described by one admirer as a man who “knew something about everything, and … a lot about many things”, Hobsbawm was an intellectual whose capacious and insightful mind could intimidate even the very best of historians. Nonetheless, he was unfailingly kind even to us lesser lights. I encountered him only once, in 2004, when he spoke at a meeting in the Marx Memorial Library in London to mark the completion of the Marx-Engels Collected Works. He proudly told us that the editors, himself included, had stoutly resisted Soviet pressures to exclude Marx’s Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century, an extremely minor work most notable for a Russophobia bordering on the irrational. Hobsbawm would not be party to doctoring the historical record. I went up at the end to stutter a hello before scuttling off in tongue-tied awe. It is a pleasure now to make a deeper acquaintance through the comfortable distance of historical biography. Hobsbawm’s advice to hopeful contributors to Past & Present, the historical journal he helped found and edit for decades, was to cut out 80 per cent of the quotations from their articles. Very wisely, Evans here ignores this advice and accordingly his account is richly endowed with fascinating and always pellucid quotation, first and foremost from Hobsbawm himself but also from many people who knew him and from the reviewers of his publications. The result is a book which is not just a study of one Marxist historian, but a biography, from a particular perspective, of two or three generations of scholarship. Evans delivers a convincingly rounded picture of Hobsbawm the man. He was distinctly English, with an old-fashioned Bloomsbury drawl and often ended his expressions of opinion with the archaic Victorian locution “What, what?” ‑ followed by a sudden grin. He never understood cricket. He had an exaggerated consciousness of his…

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