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In this brilliant book, Karl Marx biographer Francis Wheen tells the story of Das Kapital and Marx's twenty-year struggle to complete his unfinished masterpiece. Wheen 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.


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In this brilliant book, Karl Marx biographer Francis Wheen tells the story of Das Kapital and Marx's twenty-year struggle to complete his unfinished masterpiece. Wheen 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.

30 review for Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Surprisingly useful intro to Marx, both in popularizing the revelations and (sometimes unintentionally) demonstrating the controversies Preamble on Marx: --Having experienced numerous summaries by much more credible authors (see the end), it was a surprise to read such an accessible and concise introduction to Marx by a British journalist who supported the imperialist invasion of Iraq. The Good: --Wheens book is divided into 3 parts: Gestation (the formative years), Birth (of Capital Volume 1), and Surprisingly useful intro to Marx, both in popularizing the revelations and (sometimes unintentionally) demonstrating the controversies… Preamble on Marx: --Having experienced numerous summaries by much more credible authors (see the end), it was a surprise to read such an accessible and concise introduction to Marx by a British journalist who supported the imperialist invasion of Iraq. The Good: --Wheen’s book is divided into 3 parts: “Gestation” (the formative years), “Birth” (of Capital Volume 1), and “Afterlife” (history since). --“Gestation” really brings Marx to life, weaving together key concepts in his development: 1) Historical Materialism: flipping Hegel’s idealism and extending Feuerbach’s materialism with “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” …This was later to become: “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” 2) Roots in German philosophy, French politics, and English economics. 3) 1858 plan for 6 volumes on political economy (*Utsa Patnaik emphasizes the last 3 were not completed: https://youtu.be/HhjWT5W5c0Y , hence much confusion regarding the state's role and geopolitics, esp. imperialism): i) Capital (intro) ii) Landed property iii) Wage labor iv) State* v) International trade* vi) World market* --“Birth” dives into Capital Volume 1: 1) The conceptualization of capitalism starts with a world of commodities, interrogating this abstraction to find use-value vs. exchange value, the Labor Theory of Value (LTV) via socially-necessary labor-time, 2 natures of labor to match the 2 types of values, and the abstraction of labor social relations into exchangeable things (commodity fetishism). Wheen describes this Frankenstein nature of commodification: “However glorious its apparent economic triumphs, capitalism remains a disaster since it turns people into commodities, exchangeable for other commodities. Until humans can assert themselves as the subjects of history rather than its objects, there is no escape from this tyranny.” 2) C-M-C (commodity-money-commodity) commodity exchange where money is spent to obtain another commodity’s use value (money is a means to an end) actually resembles petty producers (market fundamentalists focus on this, since the exchange looks equal). The rising Industrial Capitalism becomes M-C-M’, where money is invested, i.e. “advanced” instead of spent, where the return of more money M’ is the end in itself. This process of advancing money for more money creates “capital”. 3) Surplus value (the more money M’) cannot routinely come from unequal exchange, since buyers are also sellers (of course, Michael Hudson would stress that Marx here is assuming a rent-free market where commodities are exchanged at their value, whereas the real world is consumed by economic rent via Finance and imperialism). Surplus value comes from labor power, which itself is a unique commodity (labor market). Capitalists only need to pay enough for labor’s social reproduction (in fact, much of this is externalized to the State), and the remaining unpaid labor generates surplus value. 4) Immiseration thesis: rise in productivity leads to rise in relative size of the Industrial Reserve Army (relative surplus population). Workers are displaced by automation (structural unemployment), refuting a Supply/Demand equilibrium. It’s important to consider the entire scope of capitalism (i.e. global) to see the 2 poles, although immiseration has now spread to the Western white-collar middle class (hence the rise of the Far Right: https://youtu.be/z11ohWnuwa0) 5) Business cycles: commercial crisis of overproduction, where the only counter is to destroy some capital and/or expand markets (thus greater future crises). 6) Dialectics… or having it both ways? Elaborating on Wheen’s piecemeal discussion here: a) Real-world capitalism is full of contradictions; thus, analyses must be flexible enough to both accurately describe micro events and synthesize them with macro phenomenon. Also, Wheen provides useful context for Marx’s rich but inaccessible presentation style. b) Theoretical “law” does not mean there are no exceptions. Wheen then considers the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF), where mechanization (constant capital) replaces labor power (variable capital) and the decrease in labor power (according to Labor Theory of Value) means decreased surplus value. Fundamentalist Marxists (e.g. Robert Brenner, Andrew Kliman) seem to make this their central “Crisis theory”, whereas heterodox Marxists (e.g. aforementioned Hudson/Harvey/Patnaik) tend to emphasize moving beyond Capital Volume 1 assumptions and into Volumes II/III and beyond on overproduction, asymmetrical capitalist development i.e. imperialism, economic rent esp. debt crisis). c) Having it both ways? While Marx does change as he evolves with his research/real world conditions (thus, certain ideas are bound to contradict over time), Wheen also points to specific movements where Marx seems to hedge his bets, particularly around predicting future crises and theorizing a final crisis. The Questionable: --“Afterlife”: all my mentions of “imperialism” should foreshadow issues with the final section: 1) While Marxism dwindled into reformism in the advanced capitalist countries (ex. Germany SPD’s Erfurt Program), it blossomed in backward Russia. The Narodniks theorized that since Russia already had an embryonic agrarian communal system, they should challenge rigid historical law and leapfrog over the privatization/capitalist industrialization stage. When the “Agrarian Question” was posed to Marx in 1881, he replied with difficulty that the bourgeoisie phase “‘is expressly limited to the countries of Western Europe’”, i.e. transitioning from one type of private property (feudalism) to another (capitalism). “‘Hence the analysis provided in Das Kapital does not adduce reasons either for or against the viability of the rural commune.’”...So far, so good... 2) Wheen further shows Marx’s struggles with his long-held belief in revolution through collective action under conditions of sufficient material productivity versus the clandestine operations taking place in backward Russia, framing it as Marx’s growing impatience. ...Of course, Wheen then frames the Russian Revolution and the rest of real-world socialism as a regression to rigid dogma in contrast to Marx’s continuous dialectical arguments, going so far as to say “One could even argue that the most truly Marxist achievement of the Soviet Union was its collapse: a centralized, secretive and bureaucratic command economy proved incompatible with new forces of production, thus precipitating a change in the relations of production.” before citing traitor Gorbachev. ...I’ll dive into this topic in a review of A People's History of the World; in the meantime, consider Vijay Prashad: -"What is the Meaning of the Left?" https://youtu.be/M-frUMXKcEw?t=341 -"Is China Capitalist?" https://youtu.be/3X7U2W6ryjE …For someone who stresses real-world contradictions, Wheen seems rigidly set on not even giving one mention to imperialism and its overwhelming layers of violence and strangulation, adopting the economized version of Marxism conveniently popular in the imperialist Western Left. For recent, diluted versions of this (i.e. omission of geopolitics), see Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future and The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality. 3) On the domestic level, Wheen does manage to consider the limitations of the academic Western Left, and finishes with the relevance of Marx in the uneven geographies of 21st century globalization and financialization. More on Marxism: 1) Yanis Varoufakis’s Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works - and How It Fails is one of my all-time favorite intros, but it is meant to flow without jargon and names (of which Marx is but one key luminary, as Varoufakis is a self-described “erratic Marxist”: https://youtu.be/A3uNIgDmqwI) 2) Utsa Patnaik’s on the unfinished scope of Marx's political economy, esp. regarding the imperialism: https://youtu.be/HhjWT5W5c0Y and Marx's Capital: An Introductory Reader 3) David Harvey’s teaching Capital: A Companion to Marx's Capital 4) Friedrich Engels’ attempt to systematize and make accessible Marxism: Socialism: Utopian and Scientific …future readings: 1) Michael Hudson (beyond Capital Volume 1, reviving classical political economy’s critique of “economic rent”, thus integrating with Finance Capitalism/imperialism; long history of debt/states): Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael... 2) Anwar Shaikh (moving beyond Neoclassical and Heterodox-to-Neoclassical paradigms): Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises, https://youtu.be/sf5VeRH9bJA 3) Richard D. Wolff (teaching in the heart of the US empire): Understanding Marxism

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kriegslok

    This is a book about the book that probably directly and indirectly influenced the 20th Century more than any other. While a thin volume (especially when compare to the great work that it explores) it does some valuable work and sets a few important records straight. Perhaps key amongst these is to underscore that Das Kapital cannot and should not be seen as a "Marxist bible of eternally codified canons" - although such a religious cult soon developed around the book, a book which is probably as This is a book about the book that probably directly and indirectly influenced the 20th Century more than any other. While a thin volume (especially when compare to the great work that it explores) it does some valuable work and sets a few important records straight. Perhaps key amongst these is to underscore that Das Kapital cannot and should not be seen as a "Marxist bible of eternally codified canons" - although such a religious cult soon developed around the book, a book which is probably as deeply read and understood by is adherents as the Bible is to many Christians or the Koran to many Muslims. In his lifetime Marx himself,as he despaired at those who were busy even then building his cult, Wheen notes stated "all I know is that I am not a Marxist". Part of the book is concerned with the basic contents of Marx's philosophy and the apparant contradictions and how Marx either refuted these or was happy to leave confusion in place so as to hedge his bets in areas of uncertainty. Wheen also emphasises that Marx did not explain how, why or when the system would destroy itself. Critically he notes that Marx saw Capitalism as a powerful and successful economic system that while depending on exploitation had constructed a resilliant society in which economics was the driving force of human development. Another valuable contribution made by Wheen's book is his illustration of the litary nature of Marx's work which is steeped in cultural and literary references which demonstrate his huge reading, understanding and love for literature (Wheen notes that there is a 450 page book devoted just to Marx's literary references). It is unlikely that I will ever sit down and try to read Das Kapital itself (I've tried in the past to tackle the first volume but have settled for abridged versions designed for people like me who lack a broad literary or economic knowledge and that was tough enough going) but I would recomend this book as a good one for clearing up some common misconceptions, for revealing some suprises and in its closing pages placing Marx in a modern context that finds his work still as relevant today as it was back then. I also like Marx's favourite motto "everything should be questioned" a lesson many of those who follow/followed him would do to learn for starters.

  3. 5 out of 5

    DoctorM

    A lovely small essay on "Das Kapital" not as a classic of political economy, but as a literary effort. However odd it may sound to ferret out elements of Gothic romance in Marx, the metaphors are there, and are quite likely things Karl-Heinrich himself would've understood: the creation (capitalism) that turns on and ensnares its creators, the creation that lives by draining out the life and soul of its creator. Wheen is having a good time here, but he's serious enough about "Kapital" as more A lovely small essay on "Das Kapital" not as a classic of political economy, but as a literary effort. However odd it may sound to ferret out elements of Gothic romance in Marx, the metaphors are there, and are quite likely things Karl-Heinrich himself would've understood: the creation (capitalism) that turns on and ensnares its creators, the creation that lives by draining out the life and soul of its creator. Wheen is having a good time here, but he's serious enough about "Kapital" as more than just a text in economics and politics. Marx was always a philosopher first, and "Kapital"--- huge, sprawling, endlessly re-written, never completed ---is not just an analysis of economic trends or a program for political action. "Kapital" in spirit (whatever Althusser may have thought) goes back to the ideas of the young Marx, to the idea that capitalism, however powerful its productive forces may be, is an process that destroys its creators and labourers both, and destroys human value even while creating an array of goods.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    I picked this up because I read a review that pointed out the similarity of Das Kapital to a gothic novel. I've never read, nor likely ever will read, Das Kapital(especially not in a coffee shop where an odd little man will keep trying to make eye contact with me until I acknowledge him so that he can talk about Marx) but this slim, engaging work has at least provided me with enough of an idea of the work to be able to discuss it with at least a modicum of intelligence. And, if I prove to be as I picked this up because I read a review that pointed out the similarity of Das Kapital to a gothic novel. I've never read, nor likely ever will read, Das Kapital(especially not in a coffee shop where an odd little man will keep trying to make eye contact with me until I acknowledge him so that he can talk about Marx) but this slim, engaging work has at least provided me with enough of an idea of the work to be able to discuss it with at least a modicum of intelligence. And, if I prove to be as much of an idiot as I have proven myself to be in the past, I can always fall back on relating how Marx suffered from carbuncles on his ass while finishing his masterwork.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    If reading Marx's Capital seems like a daunting task, but you still want to know what it says and why it's so important, Francis Wheen's brief "biography" of it is pretty much perfect for you. Along with the expected inclusions the influences, the process, the basic arguments Wheen argues that Capital is as much a literary work as an economic one, and discusses the various literary allusions with which Marx sprinkled his opus. This is an exceptionally quick read, and very well done, a terrific If reading Marx's Capital seems like a daunting task, but you still want to know what it says and why it's so important, Francis Wheen's brief "biography" of it is pretty much perfect for you. Along with the expected inclusions – the influences, the process, the basic arguments – Wheen argues that Capital is as much a literary work as an economic one, and discusses the various literary allusions with which Marx sprinkled his opus. This is an exceptionally quick read, and very well done, a terrific introduction to one of modern history's most important works.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Martinez

    A useful and concise book, worth reading as a preliminary for The Big One, ie Capital: Volume One: A Critique of Political Economy. The first two chapters (containing a potted history of Capital and its author, along with a basic sketch of its contents) are great, almost overflowing with useful insights. The third and final chapter is frankly dreadful, condemning all Marxism after Marx and going full throttle on the eurocentrism and cynicism. If you discard the last chapter, you'll have an A useful and concise book, worth reading as a preliminary for The Big One, ie Capital: Volume One: A Critique of Political Economy. The first two chapters (containing a potted history of Capital and its author, along with a basic sketch of its contents) are great, almost overflowing with useful insights. The third and final chapter is frankly dreadful, condemning all Marxism after Marx and going full throttle on the eurocentrism and cynicism. If you discard the last chapter, you'll have an overall far more enriching and enjoyable experience, and you'll have saved yourself an hour or so. You're welcome.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jer Clarke

    Loved this short audiobook! I really didnt know much about Marx or Das Kapital it turns out. This book shared the background and story of how the book was written, the key points of the book, and its legacy from the 19th century up to the present. I can hardly believe how efficient it was. Now I want to read the full Das Kapital! Loved this short audiobook! I really didn’t know much about Marx or Das Kapital it turns out. This book shared the background and story of how the book was written, the key points of the book, and it’s legacy from the 19th century up to the present. I can hardly believe how efficient it was. Now I want to read the full Das Kapital!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael Weinraub

    Loved this book and frankly, love the genre of relatively short books about seminal books (apparently a kind of innovation from Atlantic Books). Briefly, you get a good feel not only for Marx's approach and priorities, but an organic appreciation for the context in which he wrote. This book certainly whetted my appetite for more on Marx, his writings, and his legacy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    It puts Marx's "Das Kapital" in more context, both in what came prior and what came since. A great read. "Far from being buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mark Desrosiers

    Wheen's brief, enthusiastic treatment of one of the Western canon's most forbidding volumes doesn't exactly make you want to read it, but does generate new respect for its eccentricity and prophetic power. Early on, Wheen argues that Das Kapital should be seen as a work of art, and not as a mind-numbing economics text: "By the time he wrote Das Kapital, he was pushing out beyond conventional prose into radical literary collage -- juxtaposing voices and quotations from mythology and literature, Wheen's brief, enthusiastic treatment of one of the Western canon's most forbidding volumes doesn't exactly make you want to read it, but does generate new respect for its eccentricity and prophetic power. Early on, Wheen argues that Das Kapital should be seen as a work of art, and not as a mind-numbing economics text: "By the time he wrote Das Kapital, he was pushing out beyond conventional prose into radical literary collage -- juxtaposing voices and quotations from mythology and literature, from factory inspectors' reports and fairy tales, in the manner of Ezra Pound's Cantos or Eliot's The Waste Land. Das Kapital is as discordant as Schoenberg, as nightmarish as Kafka." I'm still unconvinced, but then again I find both The Waste Land and the Cantos (not to mention Schoenberg) dull as dishrags. Wheen goes on to talk about the hilarious gestation and birth of Kapital, featuring dilatory Marx lying to his publishers for twelve years (talk about a missed deadline), and having to write standing up toward the end (due to some painful warts on his ass). The chapter on the book's "afterlife" was most fascinating to me, especially as Wheen outs Louis Althusser as a wife-murdering charlatan, and then quotes several recent free-market capitalists (including George Soros) as Marx enthusiasts.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Very engrossing and well written. And just as the reviewer Bill Ward said, "Wheen shows that Marx's work is something like a vast Gothic novel, whose heroes are enslaved by the monster they created: capitalism." I can't believe I'm saying this but after reading this, I want to read Capital from cover to cover. This small book is broken down into only three chapters in which the author describes some biographical history about Marx and the circumstances of his life leading up to the first Very engrossing and well written. And just as the reviewer Bill Ward said, "Wheen shows that Marx's work is something like a vast Gothic novel, whose heroes are enslaved by the monster they created: capitalism." I can't believe I'm saying this but after reading this, I want to read Capital from cover to cover. This small book is broken down into only three chapters in which the author describes some biographical history about Marx and the circumstances of his life leading up to the first submission, summarizes many of the basic ideas in Capital including inconsistencies and Marx's unique (sometimes bombastic other times couched) writing style, and lastly discusses some of the important the political and polemic effects of his work until now.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Really, a person with any sense of history has to read Capital. It's a vitally important work to understanding economy from the 19th century forward. But why not, before plunging into what Wheen describes as a gothic horror novel without reading a history of Capital's history? So glad I did. His enthusiasm for Capital is infectious and makes the reader EXCITED to have at Marx's classic. I also took his suggestion and purchased McLellan's abridgment of Capital. While one day I'd love to read all Really, a person with any sense of history has to read Capital. It's a vitally important work to understanding economy from the 19th century forward. But why not, before plunging into what Wheen describes as a gothic horror novel without reading a history of Capital's history? So glad I did. His enthusiasm for Capital is infectious and makes the reader EXCITED to have at Marx's classic. I also took his suggestion and purchased McLellan's abridgment of Capital. While one day I'd love to read all three volumes, for my scholarly work, the abridgment will do nicely.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kanske Svartfors

    I'd recommend this to anyone who would like to know something about Marx and his masterpiece. The book is pretty decent, entertaining, short and easy to read; I wanted to go through it again in order to gather my thoughs because I'm currently reading the whole of Das Kapital. Only negative thing to say about the book is that Francis Wheen cannot sometimes be without stating his own opinion as a fact - extremely annoying habit if not stated clearly. Otherwise a pretty good start delving into I'd recommend this to anyone who would like to know something about Marx and his masterpiece. The book is pretty decent, entertaining, short and easy to read; I wanted to go through it again in order to gather my thoughs because I'm currently reading the whole of Das Kapital. Only negative thing to say about the book is that Francis Wheen cannot sometimes be without stating his own opinion as a fact - extremely annoying habit if not stated clearly. Otherwise a pretty good start delving into Marx's thinking. 4/5

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    Interesting to find out that Marx intended Das Kapital to be a literary work much like Pound's Cantos incorporating disjunctive methods! Maybe a way in for me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Wheen lays out a useful overview of Marxs ideas and the conception of Das Kapital and devotes a really excellent section to approaching the book *as literature* (including a survey of the few critics that have done this) that is honestly exciting in its suggestion that this could be fruitful and uncharted mode of inquiry into Marxs opus. But as soon as Wheen moves from discussing Marx to discussing Marxs legacy his lucid analysis disappears. The denunciations of every movement or government that Wheen lays out a useful overview of Marx’s ideas and the conception of Das Kapital and devotes a really excellent section to approaching the book *as literature* (including a survey of the few critics that have done this) that is honestly exciting in its suggestion that this could be fruitful and uncharted mode of inquiry into Marx’s opus. But as soon as Wheen moves from discussing Marx to discussing Marx’s legacy his lucid analysis disappears. The denunciations of every movement or government that has taken Marx as its guide is perhaps to be expected, but the shallowness of the critique is sub-McCarthyite in its stupidity and when Wheen moves on to critical theory it’s clear he’s out of his depth, quoting EP Thompson’s (very bad) reading of Althusser. Wheen takes the absurd position of railing against the “dogmatic orthodoxy” of Mao or Lenin, for instance, while simultaneously criticizing them for not being orthodoxly Marxist enough. And his discussion of theory is indistinguishable from reactionary pearl-clutching. Thankfully, this portion of the text is short and Wheen is rather better on briefly charting the influence of Marx in the post-Soviet era, which is where he ends the text.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tarik Muftic

    Very captivating and well written short book about the history of probably the most important book written in last 3 centuries. This small book, only 128 pages with only three chapters in which the author, in addition to some biographical history about Marx, summarizes many of the basic ideas in Capital including Marx's unique writing style. It is amazing that the book that altered the course of history; even today after some 150 years, finds its readers. I was surprised to learn that the first Very captivating and well written short book about the history of probably the most important book written in last 3 centuries. This small book, only 128 pages with only three chapters in which the author, in addition to some biographical history about Marx, summarizes many of the basic ideas in Capital including Marx's unique writing style. It is amazing that the book that altered the course of history; even today after some 150 years, finds its readers. I was surprised to learn that the first volume of Capital quickly sold through its print run in, of all places, Russia, while the French could never quite get a translation to Marx’s satisfaction and the Germans ignored him. No English edition was available in his lifetime. An excellent book that puts Marx's "Das Kapital" in more context, both in what came prior and what came since. A great read. As Wheen said it in the book "Far from being buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Donal Hurley

    A short interesting read. What did I learn? A large part of Marxs life was consumed writing Das Kapital. He frustrated most of his admirers by promising them he would have it ready soon but delaying it for years. The first volume was published in his lifetime and Engels published the other two volumes working from his notes. He intended it not just as a critique or a work of analysis but also as a work of literature. His prophecy about capitalism destroying itself hasnt come true yet. The opinion of A short interesting read. What did I learn? A large part of Marx’s life was consumed writing Das Kapital. He frustrated most of his admirers by promising them he would have it ready soon but delaying it for years. The first volume was published in his lifetime and Engels published the other two volumes working from his notes. He intended it not just as a critique or a work of analysis but also as a work of literature. His prophecy about capitalism destroying itself hasn’t come true yet. The opinion of many seems to be that the style of Das Kapital is opaque and there have been conflicting views over the years about it’s worth but it appears in recent years there is a growing appreciation for the ideas in it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Buchmann

    A great introduction to Marx's work and the historical moment in which he carried it out. Wish I could have read this when studying Marx in college. At the same time, I wish this book had been written yesterday, so that the "Afterlife" section could cover the 2008 Financial Crisis and the debate over neoliberalism and inequality. Alternatively, the "Afterlife" section could have been much abbreviated or left off altogether.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Drew Pitt

    Overall a very informative synopsis of the circumstances that led to the creation of Capital, a brief summation of Capital itself and finally an analysis of its place today. Its clear that Wheen idolizes Marx, which isnt necessarily bad, but it sometimes dismisses Marxs critics with a bit too much speed. Regardless of its flaws its a good companion piece to Capital as well as a decent introduction to its ideas, conclusions and the though process behind them. Overall a very informative synopsis of the circumstances that led to the creation of Capital, a brief summation of Capital itself and finally an analysis of its place today. It’s clear that Wheen idolizes Marx, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it sometimes dismisses Marx’s critics with a bit too much speed. Regardless of its flaws it’s a good companion piece to Capital as well as a decent introduction to its ideas, conclusions and the though process behind them.

  20. 4 out of 5

    more

    A very good intro, as far as Im concerned, to Marxs das kapital. Piqued my interest enough to want to read the first volume. Is there any greater freedom than a man being able to think for himself? I think not. A very good intro, as far as I’m concerned, to Marx’s das kapital. Piqued my interest enough to want to read the first volume. Is there any greater freedom than a man being able to think for himself? I think not.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ruy de Oliveira

    An excellent account of the book that changed the way many people think about Capitalism.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Omar El-mohri

    This give a better view on Marxism, whether you agree or disagree on the ideas

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bharath

    Read this before you start Das Kapital. It will prepare you better.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    I read this book after Wheen's bio of Marx. This was good, but the earlier work was better.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Fábio Shecaira

    Succinct and elegant. This book provides a very good introduction to Marxs life and work (with a particular focus on Capital I). Succinct and elegant. This book provides a very good introduction to Marx’s life and work (with a particular focus on Capital I).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Helen Cortezano

    For those who are intimidated by Karl Marx's massive tome, Das Kapital, this book is highly recommended. I remembered studying economics as a required subject in college and discussing Marx's theories on capitalism, and how I was unable to fully grasp his ideas which I found to be quite complicated (and boring, I'm afraid) at that time. However, this book made me think anew. His captivating remarks on Marx's life and his journey in writing his magnum opus, Das Kapital, were much encouraging that For those who are intimidated by Karl Marx's massive tome, Das Kapital, this book is highly recommended. I remembered studying economics as a required subject in college and discussing Marx's theories on capitalism, and how I was unable to fully grasp his ideas which I found to be quite complicated (and boring, I'm afraid) at that time. However, this book made me think anew. His captivating remarks on Marx's life and his journey in writing his magnum opus, Das Kapital, were much encouraging that I might be tempted in reading Marx's masterpiece in the coming days.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I had to read Das Kapital when I was studying political science for my undergrad degree. That was during the Cold War, and so politics was of course colored by Soviet/American relations, so it was necessary to understand communism and socialism in order to understand the politics of the time. I liked Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, and I understood them when I read them. This book gave me much more insight into Karl Marx and told me the story of what the man went through when he was I had to read Das Kapital when I was studying political science for my undergrad degree. That was during the Cold War, and so politics was of course colored by Soviet/American relations, so it was necessary to understand communism and socialism in order to understand the politics of the time. I liked Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, and I understood them when I read them. This book gave me much more insight into Karl Marx and told me the story of what the man went through when he was trying to write Das Kapital. He was a character, that seems to be for sure, and I sure don't envy his poor, long-suffering wife! I enjoyed the bits in this book that threw light on Karl Marx and his messing about in getting this book to the publisher. I could have used more about him, but I suppose reading a proper full biography would solve that need. I also enjoyed learning about foreign reactions to the book, and even learning about how different socialist and Marxist groups interpreted the book and twisted it to fit their own world view. Apparently, not all socialists and Marxists see their ideology in the same light--who'd have guessed? The book fell short for me, though, when it began rehashing what Das Kapital said. I know what Das Kapital said, I've read it, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most people who pick up this book, will also have read it, and probably gone over it in fine detail in a course. Naturally some rehashing is going to be necessary in order to prove a point, or to illustrate something, but at times, this felt like the Cliffs Notes version of Das Kapital. I can just read Das Kapital if I want to know what it said (this would make an excellent companinon piece, to that book, however). I'd probably give this book 2.5 stars (more if you're a student having to study Das Kapital--I think it could provide good insight, and when you're a student and don't have lots of time on your hands, this does hit the high points). While I'd like to give this book 2.5 stars, I'll round this up to 3 for Marx's creativity. Oh, not for his creativity in writing Das Kapital--no, I'm giving 3 stars for his creativity in coming up with excuses as to why he couldn't get this work done on deadline. You see, he'd been doing too much sitting while reasearching this work, so he got carbuncles on his butt, and it was just too painful to sit and write. That's procrastination at it's finest, and in my mind, Marx is now the king of creative excuses!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    I really like the case that Francis Wheen makes in this brief, entertaining, ever so slightly ironic, and engaging discussion of Capital that Marx might just becme the most important thinker in the 21st century. Alas, the downside is that this may be the case precisely because his work has lost its political threat, at least in the context of the collapse of Actually Existing Socialism. Capital is perhaps the most important book about capitalism that there is, in part because it is always the I really like the case that Francis Wheen makes in this brief, entertaining, ever so slightly ironic, and engaging discussion of Capital that Marx might just becme the most important thinker in the 21st century. Alas, the downside is that this may be the case precisely because his work has lost its political threat, at least in the context of the collapse of Actually Existing Socialism. Capital is perhaps the most important book about capitalism that there is, in part because it is always the critics who have the best grasp of what is going on. Wheen is correct, in his assessment, to point to the literary and cultural characteristics and aspirations of Marx, and to isolate these as among the more difficult elements of the text for many readers. What Wheen does not do, and to be fair this would make for a different book, is explore the subtitle, recorded in most English language translations as, A Critique of Political Economy. That is, Capital should be read not only as an analysis of capitalism and a critique of its previous analysts, but as an attack on the very notion of bourgeois political economy, and in a very real way a materialist case for the full integration of economic activity into the social order it frames, shapes, and integrates. Wheen has a wry turn of phrase – to suggest that contemporary China is more market Leninist than Marxist Leninist is one I'll have to use in the future, and his critique of Lenin is potent. It does irk me though that like many writers he continues to refer to Capital in all contexts as Das Kapital (when the label is applicable only to the German language editions). For the British, to label the text as German often becomes a sign of the foreign-ness of the text, of its European continental philosophy, of its textual obscurity, and its inapplicability. If Marx is to be the most important thinker in the 21st century we need to get beyond this. Still, a fine introduction to the text – and one that I hope encourages more people to read it all

  29. 4 out of 5

    James

    Having read Das Kapital in college as part of my studies in Economic History I was intrigued when I came upon this title. What in this very short book could Mr. Wheen say about Karl Marx's massive tome? Surprisingly, he can and does say a lot about the genesis of Marx's work as well as its meaning and, most importantly, its impact. I remember my economic studies as having focused on the economic theories propounded by Marx and having been impressed that he shared with Adam Smith the subsequently Having read Das Kapital in college as part of my studies in Economic History I was intrigued when I came upon this title. What in this very short book could Mr. Wheen say about Karl Marx's massive tome? Surprisingly, he can and does say a lot about the genesis of Marx's work as well as its meaning and, most importantly, its impact. I remember my economic studies as having focused on the economic theories propounded by Marx and having been impressed that he shared with Adam Smith the subsequently debunked "labor theory of value". While this is mentioned in the section discussing Marx's views of "Industrial Capitalism" there is much more in Wheen's short book. There are three sections including "Gestation" and "Birth" where the background and publication of the work are discussed. But the final chapter, "Afterlife", is of the most interest because it narrates the way Marx's thought has permeated into our culture; a way not unlike the thought of Darwin, Freud, or even Einstein has. In Marx's case many people are unaware of their debt to him and while his economic ideas regarding Socialism have been dismissed by economists his thought still shapes much of the narrative about globalism and the world. I always thought that Marx was heavily influenced by the thought of the philosopher Hegel. While that is certainly true, the author of this book provides evidence that as an writer and an artist he was also influenced by other writers like Balzac and Mary Shelley. Perhaps that is a better way to think about Marx; as an artist who creates a monster that turns against his master and refuses to be controlled. Unfortunately, the afterlife of the monster he unleashed lives with us still today.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Marina

    This little book reads easily and brilliantly, and is especially interesting to those with Leftist sympathies. Beyond that, Wheen provides the space (although 'tainted', so to say, by unconditional admiration for Marx) for moderate critics of Das Kapital to redimension the place they have assigned to Marx. For an aspiring Das Kapital reader, this book provides the right setting to semi-arbitrarily make one feel as if one is reading fiction, which makes Marx all the easier to enjoy. Most This little book reads easily and brilliantly, and is especially interesting to those with Leftist sympathies. Beyond that, Wheen provides the space (although 'tainted', so to say, by unconditional admiration for Marx) for moderate critics of Das Kapital to redimension the place they have assigned to Marx. For an aspiring Das Kapital reader, this book provides the right setting to semi-arbitrarily make one feel as if one is reading fiction, which makes Marx all the easier to enjoy. Most contemporary social scientists would say that this is merely one more testimony of Marx's charlatanry, as proper science should not dabble in the vast fields of metaphors. Wheen points out the power of metaphors and other literary constructions in ultimately providing a non-fictional narrative - through this move, not only are left more, rather than less, convinced of Marx's scientific validity, but we also get the opportunity to dwell on the fiction/non-fiction fluidity. However, I was rather disappointed with the last chapter: 'The Afterlife'. As being in possession of even a modest understanding of the main Marxist and Marxian figures that Wheen generally identifies as misunderstanding and misconstruing Marx, I start to fear that the represenation Wheen provides of Das Kapital is also faulty. This is an odd claim coming from someone which just praised the advocated fluidity in the book - however I feel like Wheen just becomes a different sort of Orthodox Marxist (a breed which he constantly denounces).

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