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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply researched engaging narrative, 29 July 2013
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Jonathan Sperber delivers a deeply researched, very readable and engaging human narrative of Marx, whilst also offering a critique of his intellectual position. The account is always interesting, but at times repetitive - some editing might have usefully reduced the book's length.

Marx as person comes across as highly opinionated, egotistical, and tyrannical. He deployed the fierce widespread crude denunciation of anyone he disagreed with which was to become the devastating hallmark of later Soviet and Chinese communism. Similarly, Marx is strong when in opposition, ie to capitalism, but weak in any advocacy or even definition of what he favours, ie communism.

Where he rules, for example in his family life, Marx is benign, but he is an irascible colleague and correspondent. He worked diligently and furiously, famously developing his thinking more through library research than through peer engagement. His output was prodigious, but thereby confusing as he developed his thought, for example on price in a market economy, almost like someone thinking aloud. He might have communicated his theoretical thinking more powerfully by a smaller, less frequent, more considered output.

Sperber traces the shift in Marx's thinking from an intellectual reliance on Hegel's metaphysical interpretation towards the emerging logical positivism of his time. Engels espoused the latter and is responsible for the more analytical version of the inevitability of a crisis in capitalism and the advent of communism. This is part of a wider intellectual issue of the active or passive existential standing of humanity which Marx and Engels needed to explore more explicitly. In his critique of capitalism Marx failed to consider the fundamental flaw in humanity itself, what Isaiah Berlin later called `the crooked timber of humanity', which was to plague communism as much as it did capitalism, the working class as much as the aristocracy.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting, 21 Jan. 2014
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There was a wealth of detail mapping the connections between Marx and dozens of other politicos of his time. excellent. But, I was slightly surprised by the shortage of discussion and references to the interaction of his life with that of Engels and also of the poor detail concerning his Rheinland actions in 1847-48. Also a surpise was the rather nineteenth-century style of poor or rough cut of the pages of each folio although that for me was a pleasant surprise. Review made by receiver of the book as a gift from Beverley Russell
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This modern publication is just what I required at this time., 6 Oct. 2013
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It fullfills all my requirements for a comprehensive and desireable presentation of the theories and views held by Marx during a period of rapid and far reaching social changes.
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10 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Flawed Forecaster, 21 April 2013
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
There are many classic books that are quoted but seldom read. These include: Von Clauswitz's magnificent 'On War', the texts by Rousseau and Machiavelli, and the works of Karl Marx.
I never encountered an undergraduate who, while claiming they were marxists, had read 'The Communist Manifesto', 'Das Kapital' or The Eighteenth Brumaire', yet they all felt free to quote (misquote) from these works.

Marx was a very good social scientist but a very poor historian. As a predictor of the future he was a complete failure. He made it clear that while Philosophers had interpreted the world he would change it by revolution. He had little time for theory; he was only interested in ACTION.

The 'Communist Manifesto' written in 1848 with Engels is a slim work of under 12,000 words yet it had a profound effect on 20th century history. His key message was that proletarians had 'a world to win'. Sperber tells us that Marx hoped to see a recurrence of the French Revolution. His ideas were based on a distinctive economic theory of historical progress; they proved to be flawed. Recent attempts by his admirers to resurrect his views on capitalism because of the economic and financial world crisis have not been convincing despite the fact that he did make some very cogent points about the inherent weaknesses of the capitalism of the 19th century. In 2008 The Times had a headline that said: 'He's Back!'. It failed to mention however that what Marx meant by 'capitalism' was not what we mean by it today. It was not, as Sperber points out, an analysis of global capitalists. This error arises because of poor translations from the original German. It should be remembered that many of the famous quotations in his writings were in fact plagiarised. For example, 'Workers of the World, unite! was lifted from Karl Schapper.
He was a notorious anti-semetic, something his followers have tried to conceal despite the evidence being overwhelming. Any doubts, read the works by Carlebach and Wistrich. His hatred of Jews was expressed on several occasions. He blamed them for corrupting Christian society, among other things. In many ways his racism and villification of the Jews was perilously close to that of Hitler.
In this book we are also reminded of his seduction of his maid, fathering a child, Fred, whom he never acknowledged. All in all not a very appealing person.

Johnathan Sperber's new book is a very welcome analysis of Marx. Sperber is a leading historian of European history who has written many articles about Marx. In this book he examines: Marx's upbringing, his student days, his lfe as an insurgent and an activist. In Part 3, the most interesting part of the book, he discusses the legacy of Marx, in particular his economic ideas.

In this excellent book Sperber describes how arguments about Marx have raged over the years and how they still cause embittered rows today. He is loved or hated. Opinions are he says: 'strongly polarised'.

This book is required reading for its focus on a new interpretation of Marx. It may be, it is argued, that Marx's views have run their course and that he should be seen as a figure 'of a past historical epoch, one increasingly distant from our own'. Many writers would agree with this.

Of enormous importance to historians is the new source that has become available for Marx's life, namely the MEGA. As Sperber explains this is an enormous project begun in the USSR in the 1920's-its editor was arrested in one of Stalin's purges and shot. The work resumed in 1975 and since 1989 work on it has continued in Berlin. The aim of MEGA is to publish everything that Marx and Engels ever wrote, including notes, and letters they received.

Sperber emphasises throughout this excellent book that what Marx said and wrote should be studied and judged in their contemporary context. Marx was essentially a critic. His ideas must be seen in the framework of his life. For example, his serious financial problems and his work as a journalist are frequently ignored by writers.

Read it! Marx will never seem the same again. The ludicrous claim by Engels in his graveside eulogy of Marx in 1883 that he had 'discovered the law of development of human history' should now be consigned to the scrapheap.
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Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-century Life
Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-century Life by Jonathan Sperber (Paperback - 8 April 2014)
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