The Life of Eric Hobsbawm

John Gray at Literary Review:

Although he admired Marxist historical materialism and applied a version of it to his study of the past in his work, the roots of Hobsbawm’s attachment to communism were emotional rather than theoretical. As Richard Evans writes, ‘The ecstatic feeling of being part of a great mass movement whose members were closely bound together by their common ideals engendered a lifelong, viscerally emotional sense of belonging.’ Early in his life, Evans tells us, Hobsbawm experienced a similar emotion in the boy scouts. His need to belong may have reflected his insecure family life (he became an orphan at the age of fourteen when his mother died of tuberculosis). He remained a member of the British Communist Party until shortly before its dissolution in 1991. But British communism was more like a marginal sect than a mass movement, and he seems to have felt a certain distance from its activists, never becoming one himself.

A powerfully influential figure, Hobsbawm needs a thorough biography. Evans’s, which uses a good deal of hitherto unpublished material, will be definitive. Whether the book had to be so long is another matter.

more here.