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Hardcover Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography Book

ISBN: 0871139707

ISBN13: 9780871139702

Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography

(Part of the Books That Shook the World Series and Books That Changed the World Series)

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Book Overview

In this brilliant book, "as gripping and as readable as a first-rate thriller," Francis Wheen, author of the most successful biography of Karl Marx, tells the story of Das Kapital and Karl Marx's twenty-year struggle to complete his unfinished masterpiece. ( The Sunday Telegraph ) Born in a two room flat in London's Soho amid political squabbles and personal tragedy, the first volume of Das Kapital was published in 1867, to muted praise. But after...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Quick read about the man behind Das Kapital

Karl Marx spent much of his life writing Das Kapital (publishing only the first volume before his death, and never seeing any translations in English). He was clearly cursed with a genius that allowed him to write a text an entire century before its time. Rather than spoil the story, I'll leave the details to your hungry mind. Westerners have largely been taught that Marx and Socialism/Communism are evil. Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of Lenin. However, Marx was just a man who observed working conditions around him, and developed a theory on how these workers would, one day, become liberated from their chains of bondage. Marx was rather surprised that his work was so popular in Russia. He wrote his theories using English workers during the Industrial Revolution. A good 90-minute book. I recommend it!

An eloquent summary of Marx

"Marx's Das Kapital" is noted Marx-sympathetic journalist Francis Wheen's contribution to Atlantic Magazine's series on book biographies. It's short, merely 120 pages of actual text, but it does the job well. Relying strongly on prominent secondary literature about Marx, such as David McLellan's excellent biography (Karl Marx, Fourth Edition: A Biography) and S.S. Prawer's equally fascinating study of Marx' use of literature and literary references (Karl Marx and World Literature (Oxford Paperbacks)), Wheen summarizes the background of Das Kapital, how it came to be, as well as its content and its reception. Wheen is at his best in the journalistic parts, when he can give colorful and well-done descriptions of Marx's life and activities, his relation to Engels, his trials and tribulations while working on the magnum opus, and in commentary on Marx's books and style. On the other hand, his grasp of Marx's economic theories is very weak and likely to make things more confusing, especially since he misses the point and meaning of Marx's Theory of Value entirely. Also dubious is that he appends a chapter on 'afterlife' of the book, which is mostly an attempt to summarize all of the later Marxist tradition (from an anti-Leninist viewpoint) in a few pages, a task so impossible that its attempt is fruitless and uninformative. However, Wheen is quite good at putting Das Kapital in its historical context, in emphasizing the rhetorical and literary qualities of the book and of Marx' thought in general, and the book also contains some fascinating quotes and remarks from pro-capitalist economists and businessmen who have come to see, to their own astonishment, that ol' Marx was a better analyst of the system they wish to support than anyone else. Let us hope the reader of this booklet will be inspired by this to attempt to delve into Marx & Engels' own works, which constantly show their relevance in new and unexpected ways. As Wheen demonstrates, this is precisely as Marx had intended it.

Resurrecting Marx

If you're anything like me, you have neither the time, nor the patience to delve into Karl Marx's monstrous Magnum opus of political economics, Das Kapital. Fortunately, Francis Wheen has done us a great service by giving us this fantastic "biography" of a book that changed the world. The book is superbly written, and the audio version, eloquently delivered by Simon Vance, is equally good. It is a concise work; the CD version is 3.5 hours, while the printed format is only about 144 pages. My CD version is separated into three sections. The first section details Marx's life and the circumstances that led him to write such a groundbreaking book. The second section is a succinct exposition of Das Kapital. Wheen aptly outlines and dissects the basic principles of Marx's revolutionary economic theory, objectively pointing out both Marx's errors, as well as his numerous insights, many of which have proven true. While his prophesies of the collapse of the capitalist system have obviously not come to pass, Marx offers more insight into the "nature of the beast" than anyone else before, or since. The final section deals with the book's lasting influence and Marx's legacy. Wheen points out that in most "Marxist" countries, Marx's ideas were never thoroughly researched and interpreted, their leaders simply took their own interpretation, made it an unquestionable dogma, and that was that. Ironically, it's been in western capitalist societies where Marx, due to the freedom of scholars to study him, has been more thoroughly understood. "Marxism as practiced by Marx himself," Wheen writes, "was not so much an ideology, as a critical process, a continuous dialectical argument." More simply put, Marx was not a Marxist. Wheen clearly has a great amount of respect for Marx. And while he is quick to point out certain lapses in logic or prognosis, he maintains that Marx was one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 19th century. In fact, he predicts that we have not seen the last of Karl Marx, and boldly suggests that in the end, he may turn out to be more relevant than most would expect. All in all, I would recommend this as a great introduction to Marx or even a refreshing new look at an old subject. 5 stars.

Is your bookshelf breeding Bolsheviks?

Karl Marx. For some, those two four letter words elicit hissing recoils and vicious claw swipes. Just one glimpse of the man resembling Santa Claus' evil twin can send them into a relentless conniption of fury. They may equate Marxism with communist, socialist, Leninist, anti-American claptrap. After all, weren't the Soviets America's diabolical enemy? Didn't they breed Bolsheviks in our washrooms? Inject anti-capitalist fluid into our drinking water? And didn't they derive such sinister plots from their hoary prophet of doom, Herr Marx? Surely the mighty bearded one inspired the killing fields, the Gulag death camps and the Red Square parades? So why drudge up this hateful mess? After the Berlin Wall and the USSR collapsed, and especially after the September 11th, 2001 attacks, which put the focus on Middle East terrorism, Marx has acquired a more innocuous aura. Nothing cools old passions like new enemies. This new era has allowed Marx to crawl out from under those who have claimed him as their ideological messiah. And many have claimed him. But why did they claim him, an impoverished exiled German journalist? And were those countless communist regimes of the past two hundred years accurate reflections of Marx's ideas? Where did those ideas come from? This small book explores the origins and fate of those ideas through Marx's maniacal magnum opus, "Das Kapital." As spiraling, towering, and dizzying, and as incomplete, as Gaudí's cathedral, this sprawling tome usually goes unread. A reputation for Tolstoyian verbosity, Proustian opacity, and Gödelian complexity preceded it into the twenty-first century. Not only that, at some 1000 pages, the book's physical presence alone would intimidate anyone but the most recklessly courageous bookworm. Nonetheless, it somehow persists. The story of how it came to be makes up this much shorter book's first two chapters. Procrastination, neglect, illness, despair, and squalor almost kept it from appearing. Decades passed between its conception and its printing. Fredrick Engels, Marx's partner and financial supporter, egged him on through a parade of excuses and diversions. Along the way snippets of Marx's economic theory, such as use-value, exchange-value, surplus-value, commodity fetishism, immiseration, and dialectic, also dot the narrative. The reception of "Das Kapital" following its publication, outlined in chapters two and three, surprised everyone, except Engels. It didn't sell. It seemed to have fallen, a la Hume, still born from the press. Engels blamed the book's dense obscurity. The one place it did catch on, to Marx's astonishment, was in Tsarist Russia. Though Marx passed on well before the 1917 revolution there, he nonetheless praised the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by a group called "The People's Will." He also spent the rest of his days waiting for the fall of capitalism. He and Engels seemed to revel in every economic disruption. But the big blow never struck. The boom and bust cycle

A necessary work for a library

Mr. Francis Wheen's narration of the genesis of Karl Marx's Das Kapital deserves an honored space on the library shelves of every man conversant in current affairs. John Gooch
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