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Marx: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 12 Oct 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New Ed edition (12 Oct. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192854054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192854056
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 1 x 10.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"I always recommend that undergraduates should read Singer's book to get an overview. I find it a very useful introduction: succinct and sophisticated."--Professor Diana Coole, University of California, Irvine"[An] excellent brief presentation of Marx and his teachings, written with clarity and conciseness; up-to-date in its sources, dispassionate in its approach to [Marx] and balanced in its assessment."--Peter McConville, University of San Francisco"Clear, concise, insightful, and even-handed."--Susan Armstrong-Buck, Humboldt State University

About the Author

Peter Singer is Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. He is best known for his books Animal Liberation and his other books include Practical Ethics, Rethinking Life and Death, and How are we to Live?.

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Marx's impact can only be compared with that of religious figures like Jesus or Muhammad. Read the first page
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Derek Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
After reading the "Manifesto", Engels' "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific" and Lenin's "State and the Revolution" anybody embarking on a study of Marxism should read this wonderful little book by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer before proceeding further with Marx's works and academic commentaries on them.

I particularly like chapter 6 (Alienation as a theory of history) and his account of the development of the theory of the materialist conception of history. However, chapter 10 (An appreciation) is especially impressive - or thought-provoking if you happen to disagree with his assessments. Singer argues that Marx deserves to be ranked with the foremost philosophers for two reasons: (1) his critique of the liberal conception of freedom, and (2) his analysis of human nature.

Marx provided the most important of all critiques of the liberal conception of freedom, which is "negative" freedom (freedom from) as opposed to "positive" (freedom to). It sees freedom as non-interference by the state or other individuals. It embraces laissez-faire economics because it sees the market as impersonal, and anyway many supporters of "liberal" freedom believe that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" produces the best possible result. Marx's objections to "liberal" freedom are:
* The interests of individuals are not necessarily the same as the totality of individuals (i.e. the community).
* Markets force us to compete with others instead of co-operating for the good of all.
* Allowing ourselves to be shaped by the market is not true freedom: planning the economy is the first step to controlling our own destiny which is true freedom.

Singer explains Marx's position very lucidly.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Chuck E VINE VOICE on 21 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
If you're never going to have time to trawl through Capital and Grundrisse, then this book will give you a bluffer's guide in 100 pages. Well, not quite, but it does provide an excellent overview of Marx's life and works, and demolishes many of the myths extrapolated from the many mis-readings of his texts - explaining how much of his work is both more nuanced and sometimes less dogmatic than some popular perceptions would credit. He shows how Marx's critique of political economy has withstood the test of time - even if some of his predictions and his rather opaque summary of capitalism's successor remain less than convincing.

Written in 1980 (and revised in 2000), however, some of Singer's own assessments now begin to look premature. Taking issue with Marx's contention that the income gap between workers and capitalists would increase, with more independent producers swallowed up by a capitalist oligopoly, with workers wages barely covering subsistence, leading to capitalism collapsing under the weight of its contradictions, Singer argues that such predictions "are so plainly mistaken" that they are impossible to defend, with the income gap narrowing since Marx's time (though widening in the last decade of the 20th century), with real wages rising at the expense of profits, and capitalism suffering minor crises but no threat of collapse.

From the viewpoint of 2011, however, this seems more debatable. While it is true that inequality declined and social mobility increased in the years following Marx's death, this was largely due to the development of a social democratic movement, driven by the theories of men like L.T. Hobhouse, which sought to ameliorate the more rapacious extremes of capitalist development - if only to save capitalists from themselves.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Lilly Penhaligon VINE VOICE on 2 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you don't know anything, or know very little about Marx and his ideas and you need to brush up but don't have the time to sit for hours in a library, then get this book. I am a complete beginner with Marx, I had heard of him but knew nothing about his ideas. I had to acquire this knowledge in a very short space of time for an essay that I was writing for my Masters. This book was perfect, just enough information to give me the basics without getting to indepth AND in an easy to read format.
It covers events in his life as well as his main achievements and ideas.
This book makes no assumptions that you know anythign about Marxism so it is very easy to follow whilst avoiding being patronising or school bookish. In fact the Very Short Introduction series are actually written by very eminent scholars in the field so it by no means superficial or textbook material.
This is an excellent introduction to Marxism, it will give you the basics and will help you identify areas of further reading or study if you are so inclined. If you need an indepth, detailed look at his ideas/theories/life, then this isn't the book for you.
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Format: Paperback
Let's be frank: this is a book that will be bought by undergraduates to brush up on their understanding of Marx for an essay or an exam. It fills this purpose pretty well, giving a good overview of Marx as a political thinker. It is a well written book, I read it in one sitting after finding up a copy in a second-hand bookshop. Particularly good is Singer's treatment of how Marx's thought developed out of an engagement with Hegel. Singer is also fair in regards both the limitations of Marx as a social prophet and his strength as a critic of capitalism and theorist of human freedom. Thankfully little time is wasted on the blind alley of 'dialectical materialism' (a phrase Marx never used). What is odd, however, is how dismissive Singer is of Marx as a social or historical thinker. A bit surprising, considering the influence Marx's materialist ideas have had over thinkers including Braudel, Weber, Adorno, Hobsbawm, Sraffa, EH Carr and many others. But other than this, the book is successful at what it intends to do, providing a good introduction to a student new to Marx. For a detailed interrogation of Marx as a social theorist, I recommend GA Cohen's 'Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence'.
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