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Marx's "Das Kapital": A Biography - A Book That Shook the World (Books That Shook the World) [Paperback]

Francis Wheen
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

9 Aug 2007 Books That Shook the World
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it," wrote Karl Marx in 1845. This is the essence of "Das Kapital", a blazing expose of the new capitalist world of the Victorian era, whose ideas would affect the lives of millions, and alter the course of world history. In vivid detail, Francis Wheen tells the story of Marx's twenty-year fight to complete his unfinished masterpiece. "Das Kapital" was born in a two-room flat in Soho amid political squabbles and personal tragedy. The first volume was published in 1867, to muted praise, but, after Marx's death, went on to influence thinkers, writers and revolutionaries, from George Bernard Shaw to Lenin. Wheen's brilliant and accessible book shows that, far from being a dry economic treatise, "Das Kapital" is like a vast Gothic novel, whose heroes are enslaved by the monster they created: capitalism. Furthermore, Wheen argues, as long as capitalism endures, "Das Kapital" demands to be read and understood.

Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (9 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843544016
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843544012
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 456,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"'As gripping and as readable as a first-rate thriller.' A. C. Grayling, The Times * 'Exhilarating... A healthy corrective to those brought up to think of Marx's work as rigid and doctrinaire... Wheen provides a vivid portrait of the man.' Adam Sisman, Sunday Telegraph * 'These well written stories of great books serve as finger-licking, appetite-whetting hors d'oeuvre.' Ziauddin Sardar, Independent"

About the Author

Francis Wheen is the author of The Soul of Indiscretion, a life of Tom Driberg; Karl Marx; The Irresistible Con; Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, which won the Orwell Prize in 2003, and How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to the ideas in the book 19 Jun 2008
By Jezza
The acid test is whether it makes you more or less likely to read Capital, surely. In that sense this is a real winner. A very lucid and enjoyable account highlighting aspects of Marx not often noticed. A nice counterpart to his biography of Karl, which paints the old sod as much nastier than does this one. Well worth reading.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An eloquent summary of Marx 11 May 2009
"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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars mind changing 20 May 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book may not change your mind about Marxism but it certainly will about Marx. He and Engels both come out of it as the most engaging characters (!).
Wonderful introduction to Marx - bit of a page turner, in fact!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bought as present for my husband 14 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
He is pleased with this, though he did ask for the Marx biogaphy ie the person not the book! So I got him that as well! He seems delighted, good service, so overall pleased.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A concise but poor analysis of Das Kapital 6 May 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The judgement about this book depends a lot of what you are looking for. In my case, when I pick up a biography of a work, I pretend to verify in which way the referred book is important for the time in which I live. The Wheen approach does not sound for me to go in that sense. Wheen, through the chapters of his commentary (gestation, birth and afterlife), gives a picture of Marx's masterpiece in a literary and aesthetical way. The advantage of this perspective is that the reader may take a slight flavour of Marx's style. This advantage is not however compensated by its shortcomings. The logic inherent to Marx approach, the meaning of the concepts used and the workable possibilities( or not) of them as a tool of analysis understanding and transformation of our societies are erased from Wheen exercise. I have some doubts that the heedless strand proposed by Whenn will make justice to Mark work. The reader interested in viewing the significance of Das Kapital for nowadays has at lest two much better alternative guides: A Companion to Marx's Capital by David Harvey (encompasses the volume 1) and Marx's Capital from Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho. Both works are very well written and, not forgeting the richness of Marx fancy style, explain how Das Kapital concepts and proposals may unveil the human relationships of contemporary society.
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