An Interview with Eric Hobsbawm

Daniel Snowman talks to the versatile Marxist intellectual whose recent book on the 'Short Twentieth Century' has already become a classic.

'He might have been a Russian,
A French or Turk or Prussian,
Or perhaps Italian!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He is an Englishman'.

These lines of W.S. Gilbert come to mind when you talk to somebody at once so pre-eminently cosmopolitan yet also so unmistakably English as Eric Hobsbawm. Born in 1917 in Alexandria to Jewish parents - an English-born father and a Viennese mother- who were married in Zurich, Hobsbawm was taken to Vienna at two and Berlin at fourteen and brought to live in London a couple of years later. His first research as a young historian was on French North Africa, while, alongside his early work on English economic history, he was also to apply his energies to detailed historical studies of Italy, Latin America and jazz. Best known, perhaps, for his four-volume history of the world from 1789 to 1991, Hobsbawm is also a prolific essayist, one of the founding fathers of the journal Past and Present and a Fellow of both the British and the American Academy Of Arts and Sciences.

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