cover image Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

Jonathan Sperber. Norton/Liveright, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-87140-467-1

This superb, readable biography of the most controversial political and economic thinker of the last two centuries achieves what scholars have been hard-pressed to deliver in recent decades: a study of Marx that avoids cold war, ideological, and partisan commitments and arguments. A University of Missouri historian, Sperber (The European Revolutions: 1848–1851) achieves this aim by securing Marx firmly in his 19th century, and keeping him out of ours. Sperber brilliantly weaves life and ideas together in this sympathetic, if duly objective, portrait of a difficult man. Not shy of criticizing his subject’s ideas and evaluating their limitations—both philosophically and as products of their particular time—Sperber provides lucid explanations of Marx’s many complex theoretical formulations and arguments. Marx the man comes to life not only as a thinker always struggling to make ends meet, but also as a husband and father, philosophical combatant, activist, German patriot, and exile in London. Marx’s contemporaries also make vivid appearances, resulting in a book that is as much a chronicle of the events and dense ideological fights of the time that so embroiled its principal subject as a biography. A major work, this is likely to be the standard biography of Marx for many years. 34 illus. (Mar.)