In this comprehensive biography of Hobsbawm, historian Richard Evans offers both a living portrait and insight into one of the most influential intellectual figures of the twentieth century. Using exclusive and unrestricted access to the unpublished material, Evans places Hobsbawm's writings, and life-long commitment to Marxism, within their historical and political context.
Based on unrestricted access to Hobsbawm’s personal archive, this is one of those doorstopper biographies that can get published in Britain even when the subject is a historian...No stone goes unturned ... Evans does a workmanlike job with those later years, but his real contribution is to have pieced together an account of the more conflicted early decades, and to have done his best – given that he is not one of nature’s biographers – to elucidate what he calls Hobsbawm’s ‘inner life’. I very much doubt this is the last word on Hobsbawm...but anyone coming afterwards will have to start from Evans’s prodigious and revelatory work.
Compellingly narrated and meticulously researched—among other things, Evans draws from a half-century of MI5 surveillance reports—the book provides a more nuanced portrait of Hobsbawm’s political and intellectual development, revealing that Hobsbawm was a far more ambivalent communist and a far more pragmatic socialist than either his critics or his champions recognized ...
A worry that the general-interest reader might find a nearly thousand-page life of an academic historian a bit of a crawl is not unfounded. Two things save this book from falling entirely into this kind of purgatory. The first is that, as mentioned, Evans is a smart, smooth writer. The second is that Hobsbawm led a more interesting life than most historians ... The book is uneven ... The portrait of Hobsbawm that results from all these pages of effort and detail is almost certainly lifelike, and although that’s of real value to future biographers, it’ll provide some challenges for normal civilian readers who might want a more generally likable subject ... The book has a pervasive feeling of a long-standing debt being paid, and a private conversation being brought to a close.