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Biography: Eric Hobsbawn

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Eric Hobsbawn, the son of a Jewish tradesman, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on 9th June, 1917. After the First World War ended his parents moved to Austria. By the time he was thirteen, both his parents had died. He went to live with his aunt in Berlin.

When Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, what was left of Hobsbawn's family moved to London. He studied history at King's College, Cambridge, and while a student joined the Communist Party. He also edited the student weekly, Granta.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Hobsbawn joined the British Army. Despite speaking German, French, Spanish and Italian fluently he was turned down for intelligence work. He served with the Royal Engineers and later with the Educational Corps.

After the war Hobsbawn returned to Cambridge University where he completed a PhD on the Fabian Society. In 1947 he became a lecturer at Birkbeck College.

After the war Hobsbawn joined E. P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Raphael Samuel, George Rudé, John Saville, Dorothy Thompson, Edmund Dell, Victor Kiernan and Maurice Dobb in forming the Communist Party Historians' Group. In 1947 Hill published Lenin and the Russian Revolution. Two years later Hill and Edmund Dell published the path-breaking collection of documents on the English Civil War, The Good Old Cause (1949).

In 1952 members of the Communist Party Historians' Group founded the journal, Past and Present. Over the next few years the journal pioneered the study of working-class history.

Hobsbawn's first book, Primitive Rebels, was published in 1959. This was followed by The Age of Revolution (1962), Labouring Men (1964), Industry and Empire (1968), Bandits (1969). In 1969 Hobsbawn co-wrote Captain Swing with George Rudé.

Hobsbawn, unlike most of his friends, remained a member of the Communist Party. However, he did protest against the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. In 1970 he became professor of history at Birkbeck College, a post he held for twelve years.

Other books by Hobsbawn include Revolutionaries (1973), The Age of Capital (1975), History of Marxism (1978), Workers (1984), The Age of Empire (1987), Nations and Nationalism (1990), The Age of Extremes (1994), On History (1997), Uncommon People (1998), The New Century (1999) and Interesting Times (2002).

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