Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm (1917-2012) was widely acknowledged as the most important left-wing historian of the twentieth century. Born in Alexandria in 1917, the son of an English father and Austrian mother, he spent his childhood in Vienna (until 1931) and Berlin (1931-1933), before moving to London in 1933. Eric Hobsbawm won a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, in 1936 and acquired a BA in History in 1939; after service in the British Army (1940-1946), he returned to Cambridge to study for his PhD (awarded in 1951). Hobsbawm taught between 1947-1982 at Birkbeck College, University of London (where he was appointed Emeritus Professor in 1982), and at the New School for Social Research in New York between 1984-1997. He also held visiting fellowships at universities around the world, was a fellow of the British Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held seventeen honorary doctorates and many other awards and honours.
Eric Hobsbawm is best known for his quartet on the 'long' nineteenth century ('The Age of Revolution', 'The Age of Capital' and 'The Age of Empire') and the 'short' twentieth century ('Age of Extremes'), which have been translated into many languages. Hobsbawm also wrote on many other subjects, notably on social banditry, the Swing riots, nationalism, the 'invention of tradition', Marxism, and the nature of history. He channelled a passion for jazz music into his work as the New Statesman's jazz critic (under the pseudonym Francis Newton) during the 1950s-1960s, and in 2002 published a memoir, 'Interesting Times: a twentieth century life'.
Hobsbawm's early experiences in Weimar Germany converted him to Communism. He joined the Sozialistischer Schülerbund (Association of Socialist Pupils) in Berlin in 1931 and the Communist Party at Cambridge in 1936. He was active in the Communist Party Historians' Group from 1946 onwards and a member of the editorial board of the CPGB magazine 'Marxism Today' from c.1978/1979 onwards. Despite condemning the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and other actions of the USSR, he remained a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain until its demise in 1991.