Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life is the autobiography of Eric Hobsbawn. It was first published in 2002. My copy is of the paperback edition published and reprinted by Abacus. The first book I read by this author was The Age Of The Capital 1848-1875 which I picked up rather accidentally in the bargain section of my local book store. Well structured and written in an accessible style, it turned out to be a good introduction into the history of that period. It left a lasting impression on me in the way that I wanted to learn more about the author himself.
Hobsbawn was born in Alexandria in 1917 to an Englishman and an Austrian woman both of jewish religion. He had a rather turbulent childhood. Gradually but steadily deteriorating family finances caught up with at times rapidly changing historical circumstances of the interwar period. He spent his formative years in Austria, Germany and England. Educated at various establishments, he moved on to become one of the most prominent historians of the twentieth century, a Marxist historian.
In the preface he sets out his objective:
()I think this book contains answers to the questions that I have been most often asked by journalists and others interested in the somewhat unusual case of a lifelong but anomalous communist and ‘Hobsbawn the Marxist historian’, but answering them has not been my object. History may judge my politics – in fact it has substantially judged them – readers may judge my books. Historical understanding is what I am after, not agreement, approval or sympathy.()
()…I may not have left an observable mark on the world in the course of this long life, although I have left a good quantity of printed marks on paper, but since I became conscious of being a historian at the age of sixteen I have watched and listened for most of it and tried to understand the history of my lifetime.()
This is an autobiography of a historian who lets history do the talking. He became the person he is because of what happened around him. This perspective alone makes this book a good pick for any interested but non professional reader of history. His ability to relate events to each other (and to his life) combined with his skillful, at times witty prose makes it an outstanding read for an even wider audience.