Karl Marx: A Life

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9780393049237: Karl Marx: A Life

Paradox and passion were the animating spirits of Karl Marx's life, which often reads like a novel by Laurence Sterne or George Eliot. "Imagine Rousseau, Voltaire, and Hegel fused into one person," said a contemporary, "and you have Dr. Marx." In this stunning book, the first major biography of Marx since the end of the Cold War, Francis Wheen gives us not a socialist ogre but a fascinating, ultimately humane man. Marx's marriage to Jenny von Westphalen, whose devotion was tested by decades of poverty and exile, is as affecting a love story offered by history, while his friendship with Friedrich Engels is by turns hilarious and inspiring. Wheen does not, however, shy away from Marx's work. Was he, as his detractors have claimed, a self-hating Jew? What did Marx really mean by his famous line, "Religion is the opiate of the masses"? Is Capital deserving of the ridicule with which modern-day economists have dismissed it? Marx lived both at the center and on the fringes of his age. He also changed the world. With Karl Marx, Francis Wheen has written a hugely entertaining biography of one of history's most unforgettable players.

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Review:

Karl Marx, whose influence on modern times has been compared to that of Jesus Christ, spent most of his lifetime in obscurity. Penniless, exiled in London, estranged from relations, and on the run from most of the police forces of Europe, his ambitions as a revolutionary were frequently thwarted, and his major writings on politics and economics remained unpublished (in some cases until after the Second World War). He has not lacked biographers, but even the most distinguished have been more interested in the evolution of his ideas than any other aspect of his life. Francis Wheen's fresh, lively, and moving biography of Marx considers the whole man--brain, beard, and the rest of his body. Unencumbered by ideological point scoring, this is a very readable, humorous, and sympathetic account. Wheen has an ear for juicy gossip and an eye for original detail. Marx comes across as a hell-raising bohemian, an intellectual bully, and a perceptive critic of capitalist chaos, but also a family man of Victorian conformity (personally vetting his daughters' suitors), Victorian ailments (carbuncles above all), and Victorian weaknesses (notably alcohol, tobacco, and, on occasion, his housekeeper). But there is great pathos, too, as Marx witnessed the deaths of four of his six children. For those readers who feel Marxism has given Marx a bad name, this is a rewarding and enlightening book. --Miles Taylor, Amazon.co.uk

About the Author:

Francis Wheen is an award-winning columnist for The Guardian in London, and the deputy editor of Private Eye. He lives in East Anglia.

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