“Absorbing, meticulously researched. . . . [Sperber] succeeds in the primary task of all biography, re-creating a man who leaps off the page.” ―Jonathan Freedland, New York Times Book Review
In this magisterial biography of Karl Marx, “likely to be definitive for many years to come” (John Gray, New York Review of Books), historian Jonathan Sperber creates a meticulously researched and multilayered portrait of both the man and the revolutionary times in which he lived. Based on unprecedented access to the recently opened archives of Marx’s and Engels’s complete writings, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life provides a historical context for the personal story of one of the most influential and controversial political philosophers in Western history. By removing Marx from the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century that colored his legacy and placing him within “the society and intellectual currents of the nineteenth century” (Ian Kershaw), Sperber is able to present a full portrait of Marx as neither a soothsaying prophet of the modern world nor the author of its darkest atrocities. This major biography fundamentally reshapes our understanding of a towering historical figure. 34 illustrations
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The closer you look at a thinker, the harder it is to say what he thought. The simplifying of Marx, often inspired by those both pro and con, reduces him to class struggle, theory of surplus value, dialectical materialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the falling rate of profit, etc. Sperber's biography goes a good way towards showing that Marx's actual thinking is much more dynamic, more complex, and less consistent.
Sperber's intention is to treat Marx, as the subtitle indicates, as a nineteenth century figure, in the context of nineteenth century thought and events. And he does so admirably. He avoids the iconic Marx, created primarily by twentieth century thought and events, allowing us to see Marx as a thinker among thinkers and as a revolutionary among revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries of his own time.
I am not a Marx scholar by any means. I have not studied Marx as closely as other 19th century thinkers (Hegel, Kierkegaard,...
During our current economic crisis, a handful of prominent critics if far fewer politicians acclaim Marx's relevance. For example, Terry Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right--expanding his briefer "Marx" monograph (both reviewed by me in 2012)--champions a social-democratic visionary rather than a heartless prophet. Hauling donations to Occupy L.A. encampment's lending library, I noticed Marxian pamphlets scattered, underfoot, piled up, neglected.
This leads to the theme of Jonathan Sperber's biography. Rather than promoting a spokesman for our times, he argues that Marx's ideas have run their course. More a product of the French Revolution and Hegel, early English industrialization and political economies of the emerging modern age, than any avant-garde inspiration, Marx "is more usefully understood as a backward-looking figure," who from his own century's first half took the facts "and projected them into the future."
As a professor of history at the University of...
This is a valuable biography. After the Great Recession of 2007 there emerged a revival of Marx. One way to engage Marx as a young intellectual is to read a new biography. Sperber's book provides a very sober political biography of Marx. Sperber writes "Marx as a contemporary whose ideas are shaping the modern world has run it course" it is time to understand Marx in his own historical context.
Thus, Sperber argues Marx's analysis of capitalism was a "nineteenth century" capitalism, quite different from capitalism in 2013 according to Sperber. This is undoubtedly warranted. Nonetheless the real intrigue of Marx for a new generation of anticapitalists will be Marx's analysis of its limits. And for Marx these limits were timeless and universal to the system which is based of a human created legal relationship of private property, economic exploitation, and the inability of price adjustment to equilibrate the macro-system all of which Sperber is impressively weak...
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