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Karl Marx by Francis Wheen

Karl Marx

by Francis Wheen

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629524,616 (4.03)27
A major biography of the man who, more than any other, made the twentieth century. Written by an author of great repute. The history of the 20th century is Marx's legacy. Not since Jesus Christ has an obscure pauper inspired such global devotion -- or been so calamitously misinterpreted. The end of the century is a good moment to strip away the mythology and try to rediscover Marx the man. There have been many thousands of books on Marxism, but almost all are written by academics and zealots for whom it is a near blaspemy to treat him as a figure of flesh and blood. In the past few years there have been excellent and successful biographies of many eminent Victorians and yet the most influential of them has remained untouched. In this book Francis Wheen, for the first time, presens Marx the man in all his brilliance and frailty -- as a poverty-stricken Prussian emigre who became a middle-class English gentleman; as an angry agitator who spent much of his adult life in scholarly silence in the British Museum Reading Room; as a gregarious and convivial host who fell out with almost all his friends; as a devoted family man who impregnated his housemaid; as a deeply earnest philosopher… (more)

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Showing 5 of 5
Marx is not in the least bit a sympathetic human being - not at least in my reading of Wheen's detailed biography, but one can't help but feel the pain of his life, particularly the children he lost. If anyone is a hero here, it is Marx's long-suffering wife Jenny. If you're looking for insights into Marx's life and works, this is the place. It's certainly easier than trying to read anything Marx wrote! ( )
  datrappert | Jul 31, 2010 |
A frightful hobgoblin stalks through Europe...or, maybe, A spectre is haunting Europe--the spectre of Communism.
  simonaries | Aug 18, 2008 |
I am not a big fan of Marx, but Wheen's biography made me see him in another - almost sympathetic - light. Wheen isn't particularly critical towards him, nor does he idolize him; he describes Marx and his life and times in a realistic and fairly objective manner.

The book is entertaining as well as educating, and opponents and supporters of Marx alike - as well as those who are just interested in 19th century history - may well benefit from reading this book. ( )
  thf1977 | Jul 7, 2006 |
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.

"It is time to strip away the mythology," writes Wheen, "and try to rediscover Karl Marx the man." In the first major biography of Marx since the end of the Cold War, Wheen does just that as he looks for the man lurking behind the myths of both enemies and disciples, the misinterpretations and the academic jargon. What he finds is somebody who will suit nobody's purposes - Marx, Wheen argues, lived his life messily. He was neither a clearheaded revolutionary nor an unrepentant hypocrite, but he wasn't the anti-Christ either. More or less incapable of holding down a steady, salaried job, he mooched off of his selfless wife, Jenny (an aristocrat fallen on hard times), and his well-to-do ideological partner, Friedrich Engels, and spent his time obsessively writing difficult, unmarketable economics tracts. He also spent a good deal of time preaching the imminent revolution of the masses (with whom he appears to have had little affinity). Following Marx from his childhood in Trier, Germany, through his exile in London, Wheen, a columnist for the British Guardian, takes readers from hovel to grand house, from the International Working Man's Association to Capital, from obscurity to notoriety and back again. (Only 11 mourners attended Marx's funeral.) The narrative veers unsteadily from scorn to admiration for the bearded philosopher. Wheen begins by jeering at Marx's cantakerousness and ends by lauding him as a prophet and a brave survivor of poverty and exile.
1 vote antimuzak | Apr 16, 2006 |
This biography is focused on Karl Marx the man and his doings in life. Francis Wheen does not dwell too much on Marx's philosophy.

Marx's disordered life, his uncaring (and sometimes downright stupid) attitude to money, the constant illnesses and the domineering personality are all usually unknown aspects of the great man that shed light on his personality. ( )
  Hanno | Feb 11, 2006 |
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