Saturday, August 29, 2009

Eric Hobsbawm's On Empire: when Hobsbawm writes, Angry Arab reads carefully

There are books that should be read repeatedly. I must have read Plato's Republic 10 times and I discover new things about it in every reading. Eric Hobsbawm's On Empire is one such book. How can anybody but Hobsbawm combine such wisdom and thoughtfulness in one volume? He writes with such a breadth of knowledge and grasp of facts that only Braudel, Toynbee, and Gibbon are capable of. When you read Hobsbawm on the nature of international relations in the 21st century, and then go back and read Zakaria or Friedman is like finishing the Economist and then reading Newsweek or People magazine at the Dentist's office. Of course, there are things that one can disagree with here and there (his reference to the Islamic world in his (very in passing) reference to the emancipation of women (p. 40) is not well-informed because even in Saudi Arabia and Iran there are more females in college than males), but he is so wise and intelligent. There are books when you read that you feel you worked out your brain, and this is one of them. I know that I am criticized for not writing praise, but I can praise Hobsbawm daily or hourly. I do like the writings of Niall Ferguson (he is a great writer although some leftists don't like to read him because he is a conservative historian) but Hobsbawm is on another level. And I like George Herring's massive From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations Since 1776 but it is rather descriptive.