Karl Marx is a magisterial and defining biography that vividly explores not only the man himself but also the revolutionary times in which he lived. Between his birth in 1818 and his death 65 years later, Karl Marx became one of Western civilization's most influential political philosophers. Two centuries on, he is still revered as a prophet of the modern world, yet he is also blamed for the darkest atrocities of modern times. But no matter in what light he is cast, the short, but broad-shouldered, bearded Marx remains - as a human being - distorted on a Procrustean bed of political "isms", perceived through the partially distorting lens of his chief disciple, Friedrich Engels, or understood as a figure of 20th-century totalitarian Marxist regimes.
Returning Marx to the Victorian confines of the 19th century, Jonathan Sperber, one of the United States' leading European historians, challenges many of our misconceptions of this political firebrand turned London journalist. In this deeply humanizing portrait, Marx no longer is the Olympian soothsayer, divining the dialectical imperatives of human history, but a scholar-activist whose revolutionary Weltanschauung was closer to Robespierre's than to those of 20th-century Marxists.
With unlimited access to the MEGA (the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, the total edition of Marx's and Engels' writings), only recently available, Sperber juxtaposes the private man, the public agitator, and the philosopher-economist. With Napoleon III, Bismarck, Adam Smith, and Charles Darwin, among others, as supporting players, Karl Marx becomes not just a biography of a man but a vibrant portrait of an infinitely complex time. Already hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a major work... likely to be the standard biography of Marx for many years," Karl Marx promises to become the defining portrait of a towering historical figure.
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Good Historiography, Not Great Narration
- Katie Sullivan
Informative intellectual biography, poor reading
Hegelian bourgeois battler
Marx -- bourgeois and revolutionary, brawler and family man, workaholic who couldn't finish anything, thinker lodged in Hegelian philosophy who kept revising his ideas in response to each decade's new intellectual trends.
It's annoying when reviewers point out mispronunciations, but this reader's were especially prolific and egregious. "Émigré" is supposed to be stressed on the first syllable, not the second. The same goes for "Hegel." Both these words are repeated innumerable times. "Bon mots" does not rhyme with "Don Knotts." And so on.
I found some long sections, devoted to Marx's nasty struggles with various rival socialist leaders, a bit tedious in audiobook format. The third and final part of the book, which steps back from the fray to assess Marx's work in broader contexts, is the most engagingly written.