Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusionby Gareth Stedman Jones
As much a portrait of his time as a biography of the man, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion returns the author of Das Kapital to his nineteenth-century world, before twentieth-century inventions transformed him into Communism’s patriarch and fierce lawgiver. Gareth Stedman Jones depicts an era dominated by extraordinary challenges and new/i>/i>
As much a portrait of his time as a biography of the man, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion returns the author of Das Kapital to his nineteenth-century world, before twentieth-century inventions transformed him into Communism’s patriarch and fierce lawgiver. Gareth Stedman Jones depicts an era dominated by extraordinary challenges and new notions about God, human capacities, empires, and political systemsand, above all, the shape of the future.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, a Europe-wide argument began about the industrial transformation of England, the Revolution in France, and the hopes and fears generated by these occurrences. Would the coming age belong to those enthralled by the revolutionary events and ideas that had brought this world into being, or would its inheritors be those who feared and loathed it? Stedman Jones gives weight not only to Marx’s views but to the views of those with whom he contended. He shows that Marx was as buffeted as anyone else living through a period that both confirmed and confounded his interpretationsand that ultimately left him with terrible intimations of failure.
Karl Marx allows the reader to understand Marx’s milieu and development, and makes sense of the devastating impact of new ways of seeing the world conjured up by Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Ricardo, Saint-Simon, and others. We come to understand how Marx transformed and adapted their philosophies into ideas that would havethrough twists and turns inconceivable to himan overwhelming impact across the globe in the twentieth century.
Jones, professor of the history of ideas at Queen Mary University of London, demystifies many elements of Karl Marx’s life in this clear-eyed biography of the founding theorist of communism. In Jones’s well-drawn portrait, Marx is an unappealing figure: self-absorbed, anti-Semitic (despite his Jewish ancestry), racist, and perpetually demanding money from relatives and friends to keep up bourgeois pretensions beyond his means. His redeeming features are his devotion to his wife, Jenny (though many believe he was the father of their housekeeper’s son), and a commanding air. Jones concentrates on Marx the thinker, situating him in the context of 19th-century German idealist philosophy—though the author’s exegesis of Marx’s philosophy is not always clear, perhaps unavoidably given the obscurity of Marx’s ruminations—and the factional infighting of those involved in contemporary radical politics. Jones’s criticism of Marx’s philosophy is sharp but balanced. He credits Marx with a telling journalistic exposé of capitalism’s excesses, but highlights gaps and contradictions in Marx’s economic theories. Jones also argues that Marx’s class analysis sprang from philosophical obsessions—with statehood, citizenship, religion, and authentic being—and systematically misunderstood the true circumstances and ambitions of workers. Jones’s sophisticated, scholarly prose is not always easy to read, but he does clear up some of the mythology surrounding this controversial icon and his thinking. Maps & illus. (Nov.)
A deeply original and illuminating account of Marx's journey through the intellectual history of the nineteenth century. Stedman Jones explores the friendships, affinities, rivalries and hatreds that shaped Marx's life with elegance and analytical brilliance. He anchors his narrative in a startlingly textured account of the society and politics of Marx's era.
Most important of all, he brings to life the thoughts of a plethora of other writers, showing how Marx's engagements with the thoughts of others enabled him to navigate a course that often had little or nothing to do with the Marxism of the twentieth century. A profound reappraisal and a gripping read.
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Meet the Author
Gareth Stedman Jones is Professor of the History of Ideas at Queen Mary University of London and Director of the Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge.
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