Weber became a historian because of his interest in politics, an interest dating back to at least the age of 12. He described his political awakening as a realization of social injustices: "It was my vague dissatisfaction with social hierarchy, the subjection of servants and peasants, the diffuse violence of everyday life in relatively peaceful country amongst apparently gentle folk".
Weber's books and articles have been translated into several languages. He earned many accolades for his scholarship, including membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Fulbright Program. His 1,300-page "A Modern History of Europe: Men, Cultures, and Societies from the Renaissance to the Present (1971)" was described "a phenomenal job of synthesis and interpretation that reflects Eugen's wide and deep learning," by the late Hans Rogger. In addition to his distinguished American Awards and honors, he was awarded the Ordre des Palmes Académiques in 1977 for his contribution to French culture. The Ordre National des Palmes Academiques was originally founded by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and is the highest decoration for French scholars.
He was born the son of Sonia and Emmanuel Weber, a well-to-do industrialist. At the age of ten (10) his parents hired a private tutor. But the tutor did not stay long. From this age of 10 Weber was already reading The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, adventure novels by Karl Frederich May, poetry by Victor Hugo and Homer. He was also reading George Sand, Jules Verne and "every cheap paperback I could afford". At age 12, he was sent to boarding school in Herne Bay, in south-eastern England, and later to Ashville College, Harrogate.
During World War II, he served with the British Army in Belgium, Germany and India between 1943 and 1947 rising to the rank of captain. Afterward, Weber studied history at the Sorbonne and Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) in Paris.
He graduated with a BA in 1950 and an MA from Cambridge in 1954. In 1950, he married Jacqueline Brument-Roth. He then taught at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1953–1954) and the University of Alberta (1954–1955) before settling in the United States, where he taught first at the University of Iowa (1955–1956) and then, until 1993 on his retirement, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
At Cambridge University Eugen Weber studied with the historian David Thomson. He studied for his PhD but the dissertation was refused because the outside examiner, Alfred Cobban, of the University of London, gave a negative review of his dissertation, saying it lacked sufficient archival sources.
Eugen Weber wrote a column titled "LA Confidential" for the Los Angeles Times. He also wrote for several French popular newspapers and, in 1989, presented an American public television series, "The Western Tradition", which consisted of fifty two lectures of 30 minutes each.
Weber took a pragmatic approach to history. He once observed: "Nothing is more concrete than history, nothing less interested in theories or in abstract ideas. The great historians have fewer ideas about history than amateurs do; they merely have a way of ordering their facts to tell their story. It isn’t theories they look for, but information, documents, and ideas about how to find and handle them."
Weber is associated with several important academic arguments. His book: "Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1870-1914", for instance, is a classic presentation of modernization theory. Although other historians such as Henri Mendras had put forward similar theories about the modernization of the French countryside, Weber's book was amongst the first to focus on changes in the period between 1870 and 1914. Weber emphasizes that well into the 19th century few French citizens regularly spoke French, but rather regional languages or dialects such as Breton, Gascon, Basque, Catalan, Flemish, Alsatian, and Corsican. Even in French-speaking areas provincial loyalties often transcended the putative bond of the nation. Between 1870 and 1914, Weber argued, a number of new forces penetrated the previously isolated countryside. These included the judicial and school systems, the army, the church, railways, roads, and a market economy. The result was the wholesale transformation of the population from "peasants," basically ignorant of the wider nation, to Frenchmen.
In his book, "Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages.", Weber investigates the study of the Apocalypse (the revelation of God) in the Bible. He provides a critical review of the traditions of modern times which he calls "worldly times", characterized by people's influences often to be evil. Weber reflects on the manner in which the teachings of the Bible are being "recast" by modern worldly Christian churches. He discusses the modern day secularism of organized Christian churches who interpret and deftly twist the Bible to suit modern tastes of "worldly times". Wordly times are characterized by materialism, pursuits and indulgence in vain pleasures, with long term negative effects. Weber implores his reader to get out of ("worldly times"), come out of organised churches, turn down priests and pastors, walk out and study the Bible alone fellowshipping with God.
Weber proclaimed in "The Western Tradition" lectures of 1989:
"... here we are at the end of the 20th century with a lot of people lonely in a Godless world - and now they are denied not only God but the solid substance of judgement and perception". "The world has always been disgracefully managed but now you no longer know to whom to complain."
After he traversed the whole spectrum of western thought, tradition, civilization, and progress in The Western Tradition, Weber pointed at some of the profound ancient lessons from the Bible and laments the fact that many people today do not read it themselves. As an agnostic, Weber viewed the Bible primarily as an important piece of historical literature, calling it: “the epitome of wisdom, violence, high aspiration, and the hurtful achievements of mankind". He concluded his final lecture in the Western Tradition series by praising Western man as Promethean and then with Wordsworth's poetic phrase that, despite everything, "we are greater than we know."
A 2010 biography by Stanford Franklin, "Eugen Weber The Greatest Historian of our Times: Lessons of Greatness to the Future" presents Weber's life and works in positive terms.
- The Nationalist Revival in France, 1905-1914, 1959.
- Action Française: Royalism and Reaction in Twentieth Century France (1962).
- "Nationalism, Socialism and National-Socialism in France" French Historical Studies, Volume 2, 1962. pages 273-307 in JSTOR
- Satan France-Maçon: la mystification de Leo Taxil, 1964.
- Varieties of Fascism: Doctrines of Revolution in the Twenthieth Century (1964).
- co-edited with Hans Rogger, The European Right: A Historical Profile, 1965.
- "Pierre de Coubertin and the Introduction of Organized Sports in France" pages 3–26 from Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 5, 1970.
- "Gymnastics and Sports in Fin-de-Siècle France: Opium of the Classes?" pages 70–98 from American Historical Review, Volume 76, 1971.
- A Modern History of Europe: Men, Cultures, and Societies from the Renaissance to the Present (1971).
- Peasants Into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914 (1976).
- "The Second Republic, Politics, and the Peasant," French Historical Studies Vol. 11, No. 4 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 521–550 in JSTOR
- "Comment la politique vint aux paysans: A Second Look at Peasant Politicization," American Historical Review, Volume 87, 1982 pages 357-389 in JSTOR
- "Fascism(s) and Some Harbingers," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 54, No. 4, December 1982
- "Reflections on the Jews in France" from The Jews in Modern France edited by Frances Malino and Bernard Wasserstein, 1985.
- France, Fin de siècle (1986).
- My France: Politics, Culture, Myth, 1991.
- The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s (1994).
- Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial beliefs through the Ages (2000).
- Burns (1999)
- Quinn, 2009
- Amato, Joseph A. "Eugen Weber's France" pages 879–882 from Journal of Social History, Volume 25, 1992.
- Burns, Michael. "Weber, Eugen" in The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, London:Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, (1999) ISBN 1-884964-33-8. pages 1284-1285
- Quinn, Frederick. "An Elegy for Eugen Weber," Historian, Spring 2009, Vol. 71 Issue 1, pp 1–30
- Franklin, Stanford and Kanyane, Chris (2010) Eugen Weber Greatest Historian of our Times: Lessons of Greatness to the Future: Global Centre For Research World Wide
- Weber's UCLA Homepage
- The Western Tradition homepage at Annenberg/CPB - where you can watch each episode on demand for free (Pop-ups required)
- Eugen Weber Greatest Historian Of Our Times: Lessons of Greatness To The Future by Stanford Franklin & Dr Chris Kanyane, Ph.D (History) Central Western University, Arlington, Texas (US).
- An episode from a TV series: "The Western Tradition" - Google Video