Letter: Not all gloom and doom

THE FIRST part of Eric Hobsbawm's survey of 'The Short 20th Century' (Sunday Review, 9 October) communicated gloom and pessimism as the barbarities, irrationality and mass destructiveness unleashed by this century were surveyed.

Yet I wonder whether this century has been any worse than those that preceded it. I suspect not: plagues, famines and wars are as old as humanity. Moreover, the last 90 years have seen immeasurable improvements in health, education and general standards of living throughout the world.

Women, members of non- white ethnic groups and others outside the charmed circle of classical Western culture have seized the opportunities offered by the weakening of traditional hierarchies and prejudices. It is premature to pass a final judgement on this century, but the future offers just as much cause for hope as for despair.

Phinella Henderson

London SW2