Historian Eric Hobsbawm dies, aged 95

Eric Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party aged 14

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Eric Hobsbawm, one of Britain's most eminent historians, has died at the age of 95, his family have confirmed.

He died in the early hours of Monday morning at the Royal Free Hospital in London where he had been suffering from pneumonia, his daughter Julia said.

Mr Hobsbawm, a historian in the Marxist tradition, wrote more than 30 books.

His reputation rests largely on four works, including History of the 20th Century, The Age of Extremes, which has been translated into 40 languages.

In a statement his family said: "He will be greatly missed not only by his wife of 50 years, Marlene, and his three children, seven grandchildren and great grandchild, but also by his many thousands of readers and students around the world."

Born to Jewish parents in Egypt in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, Prof Hobsbawm's life and works were shaped by his commitment to radical socialism.

'Extraordinary century'

His British father and Austrian mother moved to Vienna when he was two, then to Berlin.

He joined the Communist Party aged 14, after he had been orphaned and was living with his uncle.

Analysis

Eric Hobsbawm was remarkable among historians in being proud to call himself a Marxist long after Marxism had been discredited in the West.

To his admirers he was one of the greatest historians of the 20th Century. To his critics he was an apologist for Soviet tyranny who never fully changed his views. But he was too shrewd, too open-minded to pursue a narrow Marxist approach in his work or his politics.

In his trilogy, the Age of Revolution, the Age of Capital and the Age of Empire, he wrote the history of the 19th Century. In the Age of Extremes, he wrote the history of his own times. As a Marxist he believed historical events were driven by economic changes but his interests were broad.

He was a 19th century historian in two senses. The "long 19th Century" from the French Revolution to WWI was his particular area of expertise. But his best work also had a scope reminiscent of the great historians of the century before last.

In his 80s he reflected: "Anybody who saw Hitler's rise happen first hand could not have helped but be shaped by it, politically. That boy is still somewhere inside, always will be."

In 1933, with Hitler's grip on power tightening, he came to London. After gaining a PhD from Cambridge, he published his first book in 1948.

Hobsbawm was appointed a lecturer at Birkbeck College in London in 1947, spending his entire career on the faculty and eventually being appointed president.

His best-known works were the three-volume history of the 19th Century and his book the Age of Extremes which covered the eight decades from WWI to the collapse of communism in Europe.

He published his final book, How to Change the World, in 2011.

Hobsbawm said he had lived "through almost all of the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history".

An unrepentant Marxist, he acknowledged the failure of 20th Century communism but said he had not given up on Marxist ideals.

In April, he told fellow historian Simon Schama he would like to be remembered as "somebody who not only kept the flag flying, but who showed that by waving it you can actually achieve something, if only good and readable books".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Prof Hobsbawm was "an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of his family".

"His historical works brought hundreds of years of British history to hundreds of thousands of people. He brought history out of the ivory tower and into people's lives," he said.

"But he was not simply an academic, he cared deeply about the political direction of the country. Indeed, he was one of the first people to recognise the challenges to Labour in the late 1970s and 1980s from the changing nature of our society."

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