Eric Hobsbawm dies, aged 95

Eric Hobsbawm dies, aged 95

Lifelong Marxist, whose work influenced generations of historians and politicians, dies after long illness

Eric Hobsbawm

Eric Hobsbawm at his London home: the historian's lifelong commitment to Marxism made him a controversial figure. Photograph: Anne Katrin Purkiss/Rex Features

Eric Hobsbawm, one of the leading historians of the 20th century, has died, his family said on Monday.

Hobsbawm, a lifelong Marxist whose work influenced generations of historians and politicians, died in the early hours of Monday morning at the Royal Free Hospital in London after a long illness, his daughter Julia said. He was 95.

Hobsbawm's four-volume history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, spanning European history from the French revolution to the fall of the USSR, is acknowledged as among the defining works on the period.

Fellow historian Niall Ferguson called the quartet, from The Age of Revolution to 1994's The Age of Extremes, as "the best starting point I know for anyone who wishes to begin studying modern history".

Hobsbawm's lifelong commitment to Marxist principles made him a controversial figure, however, in particular his membership of the British Communist party even after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

He said may years later that he had "never tried to diminish the appalling things that happened in Russia", but had believed in the early days of the communist project that "a new world was being born amid blood and tears and horror: revolution, civil war, famine. Thanks to the breakdown of the west, we had the illusion that even this brutal, experimental, system was going to work better than the west. It was that or nothing."

He was dubbed "Neil Kinnock's guru" in the early 1990s, after criticising the Labour party for failing to keep step with social changes, and was regarded as influential in the birth of New Labour, though he later expressed disappointment with the government of Tony Blair.

Hobsbawm was born into a Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1917, and grew up in Vienna and Berlin, moving to London with his family in 1933, the year that Hitler came to power in Germany. He studied at Marylebone grammar school and Kings College, Cambridge, and became a lecturer at Birkbeck University in 1947, the beginning of a lifelong association that culminated in his becoming the university's president.

He became a fellow of the British Academy in 1978 and was awarded the companion of honour in 1998.

He is survived by his wife, Marlene, his daughter, Julia, and sons Andy and Joseph, and by seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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I am an anthropologist and Associate Professor who loves to play guitar and comment on social injustice in whatever form it may take
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