Eric Hobsbawm

Historian of the ages

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When Eric Hobsbawm died on Oct. 1 at 95, he was eulogized even by his ideological foes as the greatest historian of his time. Though the Cambridge-educated Briton was an unrepentant Communist who refused to quit the party even after the horrors of Stalin became clear, his work showed little trace of dogma. As a historian, he was interested less in the actions of great men than in the lives of ordinary people. Their struggles are at the heart of his most famous work, the best-selling four-volume Ages series chronicling the period from the French Revolution to 1991. Hobsbawm's histories, always written in taut, lucid prose, were Marxist in Marxism's most ideal form: cosmopolitan, humanist and rooted in the study of societies from the bottom up. They changed forever how we try to and should tell stories.