Historian Eric Hobsbawm, who died at the age of 95 on Monday, had the advantage of living through many of the momentous events he wrote so eloquently about. But his strength as a chronicler of the world’s major turning points was not derived just from his firsthand experience. It was Hobsbawm’s fine ability to understand and explain the context and consequence of developments that made him stand apart as one of the world’s great historians.
The analysis provided by Hobsbawm in the masterful “Age of Extremes” — an account of the turmoil that shaped the world between 1914 and 1991 — comes to mind in this era of uncertainty we’ve entered. Yet, despite the obvious connections that can be drawn between the failures of today and other periods of our relatively recent history, policymakers are showing an alarming disregard for the past. Hobsbawm would not have been surprised by this myopia. Writing in “The Age of Extremes,” first published in 1994, he lamented that history was so often expunged from people’s minds.