Friday, July 13, 2007

Karl Marx: An Intimate Biography by Saul Padover

(Book Review)

Regular readers of my blog will perhaps note this is the third biography of Marx I have read within the past year after Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin and Karl Marx: A Life by Francis Wheen. Because my interests are more historical than philosophical, I tend to look for a book that tells the interesting events in Marx's life without bogging the reader down in the specifics of German Hegelianism. And although I enjoyed the previous two books, this was the book I was looking for.

Ultimately this probably comes down to personal preference, but if, like me, you are interested in biographical and not philosophical details about Marx, then this is the book for you. Although Marx's philosophical works are mentioned, very little understanding is asked of the reader.

Not that this book is perfect. There were several interesting incidents and fascinating biographic details found in the first two books that were not in this book. Or at least not fully elaborated on in this book.

The style of the book at times is very easy to understand and text book like, making for a fast read. It does get a little dry at times however and one senses Saul Padover is not having as much fun with his subject as contrasted with the light tone of Francis Wheen or Isaiah Berlin.

But this book gives a very clear outline of all the events in Marx's life. It does a very good job of explaining, for example, all of Marx's (albeit limited) role in the revolutions of 1848.

Although the book is largely chronological, the last 20 years in England are divided up into chapters by subject. For example one chapter is on Das Kapital, on chapter is on the rise and fall of the First International, one chapter is on the Paris Commune.

In reality of course all of these subjects were intertwined. For example one of the reasons Marx got so little work done on Das Kapital (and never got around to finishing the subsequent volumes) was because of his involvement in the First Communist International. And the event that thrust the Communist International into the public spotlight was the Paris Commune.

I wouldn't go as far to say this is confusing because Saul Padover's style is very clear, but it does make the story lose some of its forward momentum. Also it makes many of the events in Marx's story anti-climatic. For instance in a chapter on Marx's children, Padover mentions the death of Marx and Engels. Then later he has to go back and retells the story in his final chapter.

Quibbles aside though, this represents a very concise, clear, biographically focused and easy to read introduction to the life of Karl Marx. A great starting point for anyone wanting to learn more.

This review has also been printed on Media Mouse.
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Whisky Prajer said...

Fab cover, too - has a 70s vibe.

ジョエル said...

Publication date 1978