At the brink of the millennium, socialist historian Hobsbawm examines major trends in international politics and world events.
Hobsbawm's The Age of Extremes (1996) was hailed for the author's analysis of what he termed `the short century`—the years from 1914 (the start of WW I) to 1991 (the collapse of the Soviet Union). Here he continues his sweeping yet intensive study of what shapes modern civilization. Hobsbawm examines complex and sometimes contradictory trends, from the balance of power among nations or increased travel opportunities for the rich. Considering the catchall term “globalism,` Hobsbawm discusses rapid advances in communications technologies, the emergence of a `global popular culture,` and the fading line between internal and international conflicts. Hobsbawm declares that, at the end of the century, `the world is better than it was, with a few exceptions,` but his viewpoint on the state of the world is far from optimistic all the same. Other topics touched upon include demographics, food shortages, the depletion of natural resources, and the increasing polarization of wealth (a topic to which he often returns, arguing that `a billion people living in dire poverty alongside a billion in widening splendor on a planet growing ever smaller and more integrated is not a sustainable scenario`). Looking at the individual level, he draws our attention to the new left, the growth of private interest, and the loss of social values on a grand scale. While none of these trends is surprising, Hobsbawm's elegant analysis brings a century of incredible change into some semblance of frame and focus, even as it prods us to ask why we study the information we call history.
Although rather depressing (Hobsbawn allows that he “cannot look to the future with great optimism`), this is a concise, honest, and cautious approach to the state of human affairs.