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[(Karl Marx: A Life)] [Author: Francis Wheen] published on (July, 2001) Paperback – 17 Jul 2001
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I came away from this entertaining, interesting book with a good feel for his life and times: the boils on his bum, the numerous creditors, his ingrained procrastination, numerous fallings out with socialist rivals, his wife, his children etc. across his turbulent, chaotic but compelling life.
Born in the Rhineland city of Trier, Marx couldn’t wait to escape this tedious backwater, to the extent that he didn’t even return to attend his father’s funeral. Thus started a roving life until, after the unsuccessful European revolutions of 1848, and having been made unwelcome in Germany and Belgium, he pitched up in London, the last refuge of the rootless revolutionary where he lived in Dickensian poverty with bailiffs at his door
Helpfully, his friend Engels, a great cotton Lord and kind of secret agent behind enemy lines, sent him money to keep him afloat for years. It was only Marx's desire to keep up bourgeoise appearances that meant he was permanent spending more than he could afford including, hilariously, for a period, a preening, libidinous and incompetent private secretary, and only because he thought it appropriate for a man of his position to have one.
The book is clear about Marx’s many unattractive traits, however it also paints a delightful portrait of a loving, involved father and husband, and a passionate philosopher. It's a balanced, compact and very readable account of one of most influential thinkers of his era.
Wheen achieves this by taking a chatty, fast-paced approach to the biography. Chapters are split into long-ish periods and move fluently between personal life, writing, and the broader historical context. Wheen is obviously attracted to Marx as a philosopher and as a character, and he could be criticised for being overly sympathetic at times, but overall I came to feel similarly forgiving, and quite charmed by Marx. The book bursts with funny asides, anecdotes, and sharp observations about Marx and his associates. The monolith of Marx himself, as well as his family, becomes much more human under that sort of light.
I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in Marx, and I don't think you'd need much background knowledge to tackle it. It's also fascinating if you're more broadly interested in European politics and history of the mid nineteenth century. There are many more thorough books on Marx, but few as enjoyable, and this is a great introduction to his life and times.
It is indeed a biography and does not go into to much of the exact theories of his ideas but, you really get a feel for the person that is often labled as evil. This book really gives a fair portrail of Karl Marx, his family and friends.
The reason I have given this book a 4 start rating is that, it was writen in such beautiful english that I felt the need to grab a dictionary all the time. This does not make the book unreadable by any means, but can leave you confussed by its fancy words.
All in a very wonderful read and I feel that I have a more balanced view of Karl Marx.
A strict marxist may frown about all the talk about Marx's carbuncles, but I personally felt really touch by the life of this man.
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