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Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography

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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. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    I picked up this book from Scribd and summarizes Das Kapital and the history of its later influence. I get Marx's economic analysis of capitalism I might quibble on how much value is a function of labor instead of other things. I think no simple factor is behind the value of commodities or goods I think whatever value is it has multiple sources in addition to labor, I think scarcity is also a factor and there could be other inputs. However, his analysis of how labor and capital interact is tren I picked up this book from Scribd and summarizes Das Kapital and the history of its later influence. I get Marx's economic analysis of capitalism I might quibble on how much value is a function of labor instead of other things. I think no simple factor is behind the value of commodities or goods I think whatever value is it has multiple sources in addition to labor, I think scarcity is also a factor and there could be other inputs. However, his analysis of how labor and capital interact is trenchant and plays a big part of the story in the way capitalism operates and its tendency to create inequalities and the way Capitalism will squeeze workers in the absence of countervailing forces. Also his observations about the instability of capitalism ring true. As a prognosticator, Marx may be better than a CNN pundit but frankly, his predictions are not much better than that. This is as it should be humans aren't the best at long-term prediction but confidence in our abilities to predict is always high in any know it all. Almost everyone can be guilty of that. Also, I don't have any use for the Hegelian dialectic. That Metaphysics turned on its head or not is not my cup of tea. Still, his economic insights are spurring me to dust of Das Kapital and give it a second look.

  2. 5 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. 4 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 tha 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

    Jer Clarke

    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!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hannes

    This book gives a very nuanced and detailed view of ’Capital’, along with a basic summary of its points. I think it’s great.

  7. 4 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, fr 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.

  8. 5 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 submissi 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kanske Ervast 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 Marx' 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    ZX

    The book is split into 4 parts: Introduction, Gestation, Birth, and Afterlife. Under Introduction and Gestation, the book gives an account of the journey Marx has been through leading to the publication of his magnum opus - Das Kapital. In Birth, the book looks at several concepts espoused by Marx in Das Kapital. Lastly, in Afterlife, the book explores how different people looked upon, interpreted, and used, Das Kapital - in the years and decades since its released. Personally, I find the book t The book is split into 4 parts: Introduction, Gestation, Birth, and Afterlife. Under Introduction and Gestation, the book gives an account of the journey Marx has been through leading to the publication of his magnum opus - Das Kapital. In Birth, the book looks at several concepts espoused by Marx in Das Kapital. Lastly, in Afterlife, the book explores how different people looked upon, interpreted, and used, Das Kapital - in the years and decades since its released. Personally, I find the book to be a manageable read - though I must admit when the book looks at Marx's economic concepts, it was a bit tough. There was also several instances when I had difficulties understanding the passage, due to my lack of knowledge over the meaning of several words.

  13. 4 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    more

    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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Omar El-mohri

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

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bharath

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

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ruy de Oliveira

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

  18. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    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.

  19. 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 try 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!

  20. 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 cri 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

  21. 5 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.

  22. 4 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 contempo 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).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    A very engaging and thought-provoking precis of Das Kapital and its importance; this book gave background to the creation, a summary of the content, and a short history of the influence of this monumental work. I quite enjoyed the generous spirit with which Mr Wheen approached Marx's opus--in the hands of a more mean-spirited or shallow dogmatist, this might have been a railing against the Hegelian dialectic in which it is cast, or a spotlighting of supposed unfulfilled prophecies and promise. In A very engaging and thought-provoking precis of Das Kapital and its importance; this book gave background to the creation, a summary of the content, and a short history of the influence of this monumental work. I quite enjoyed the generous spirit with which Mr Wheen approached Marx's opus--in the hands of a more mean-spirited or shallow dogmatist, this might have been a railing against the Hegelian dialectic in which it is cast, or a spotlighting of supposed unfulfilled prophecies and promise. Instead we get an appraisal that acknowledges faults but, more importantly, spends time savoring that which is enlightening. And what a wealth of enlightenment one can glean; Marx as proto-Modernist prefigured better than almost anyone else the dehumanizing affect of capital. Das Kapital exposes the cruelty upon which the creation of wealth for a few is based: the conversion of life-time into work-time. In Sternian prose and digressions, he exposes the absurdities of the dehumanizing system that we have come to accept as status quo. With reports of the growing migration of wealth from the majority to a very small minority, Marx's work (and not its later appropriations and distortions (Leninism, et al)) is more timely than ever, and I am grateful for this attempt at making more accessible this humane work of economic philosophy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carmen

    The author's approach is intriguing: he explores Das Kapital through the lens of literary criticism. In Kapital Marx's task is to show this unreal thing: capital, and the very real material effects it has on the lives and environment. For this task he looks to various literary models, such as Jonathon Swift's Gulliver's travels, and the gothic novels with their emphasis on the spectres and the horrors they create. This is why you encounter such difficult theorizing such as C-M-C and M-C-M, (or C The author's approach is intriguing: he explores Das Kapital through the lens of literary criticism. In Kapital Marx's task is to show this unreal thing: capital, and the very real material effects it has on the lives and environment. For this task he looks to various literary models, such as Jonathon Swift's Gulliver's travels, and the gothic novels with their emphasis on the spectres and the horrors they create. This is why you encounter such difficult theorizing such as C-M-C and M-C-M, (or Commodity is purchased by Money which in turn purchases more Commodities and increases capital, which exists but doesn't, and then money is used to purchase commodities etc.), followed up by a journalistic section where Marx walks the reader through the English working day in the 19th century, showing the full horror of waking in the early hours, going barefoot to work in a factory, the incessant boredom and tedium, the harrassment of the supervisors and owners, the meager wages that produce meager sustenance...he lays it out, and then returns to trying to capture this spectre, this ghost, capital in the book. A short book but an absolutely fascinating approach.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Winston

    This book is a decent short account of Marx's struggle to write the first three books of Das Kapital. Despite its short length, it manages to ramble a bit, and doesn't do that great a job explaining the basic principles of Marxism or the milestones of Marx's life. Marx in fact only completed one book, and his friend Engels completed the next two. The three volumes make up a work almost unreadable due to its length and density. Wheen explains labor and labor power as employees getting paid for valu This book is a decent short account of Marx's struggle to write the first three books of Das Kapital. Despite its short length, it manages to ramble a bit, and doesn't do that great a job explaining the basic principles of Marxism or the milestones of Marx's life. Marx in fact only completed one book, and his friend Engels completed the next two. The three volumes make up a work almost unreadable due to its length and density. Wheen explains labor and labor power as employees getting paid for value of his services and employer keeping surplus as profit. Marx saw this as exploitation, rather than wealth creation. This is contrasted with the previous economic conditions when people owned their own plot of land, labored planting and harvesting it. Whatever the farmer got from sale of crops was his to keep. If he got paid more than the value of his value, he got to keep the surplus. As with most religions, Marx's ideas were distorted and mutated by others including Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. There is an interesting last section in the book with comments by Marx’s regarding French socialism in the 1870’s.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    Das Kapital is a book about economics that changed the world; but is it art? Wheen shows how Marx created a cross between a Gothic novel and a Greek tragedy where capitalism eats its children, vampire-like, where commodities take on a life of their own like his beloved novel Frankenstein, where Dickinsinian irony is punctuated by grim stats and stories of exploitation and misery. Blending economics, philosophy, and anthropology, Wheen calls it “entirely sui generis.” Though Marx researched it fo Das Kapital is a book about economics that changed the world; but is it art? Wheen shows how Marx created a cross between a Gothic novel and a Greek tragedy where capitalism eats its children, vampire-like, where commodities take on a life of their own like his beloved novel Frankenstein, where Dickinsinian irony is punctuated by grim stats and stories of exploitation and misery. Blending economics, philosophy, and anthropology, Wheen calls it “entirely sui generis.” Though Marx researched it for 11 hour days in the British Library, neglecting his family and health, the monstrous book is still unreadable. Intended to set the working class aflame, it moved a small circle of intellectuals to formant revolution. It became the Bible of a new clerisy, who treated it as revelation. A fragmented text postmodern before its time, we nevertheless take for granted its insights into the nature of capitalism, commodities, and the material dimension to human history: ‘it’s the economy, stupid!’

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julien

    Very good short introduction to a notorious (and notoriously difficult) book. I like everything I've read by Wheen. He's insightful, opinionated, and witty, and he writes without resort to jargon. He's especially good in this book at bringing out the literary aspects of Capital, comparing, for instance, its shaggy-dog, surreal discussion of a coat's transformation from cloth to commodity to money to Tristram Shandy (which is not a gratuitous or forced comparison—Marx was a fan of Sterne). The sh Very good short introduction to a notorious (and notoriously difficult) book. I like everything I've read by Wheen. He's insightful, opinionated, and witty, and he writes without resort to jargon. He's especially good in this book at bringing out the literary aspects of Capital, comparing, for instance, its shaggy-dog, surreal discussion of a coat's transformation from cloth to commodity to money to Tristram Shandy (which is not a gratuitous or forced comparison—Marx was a fan of Sterne). The shortness of the book prevents him from going into too much detail about things like the theory of surplus value, etc., but they are clearly and engagingly presented here. A good book to read before trying to tackle the big text, and not a bad "Cliff's Notes" style substitute if you're not up to the task. Wheen's biography of Marx is good, too.

  28. 4 out of 5

    John Maniscalco

    I have always wanted to read Kapital but never thought it was worth the thousands of pages of reading it would require so I opted for this small book that I believed would provide an in depth analysis of Marx's argument. The author provides a bare minimum of Marx's view of capital and the theory of surplus value but delves too deeply into Marx's linguistic style, his excuses for not finishing the book on time (he was delayed by decades), and the way in which Marxists later hijacked Marxism as an I have always wanted to read Kapital but never thought it was worth the thousands of pages of reading it would require so I opted for this small book that I believed would provide an in depth analysis of Marx's argument. The author provides a bare minimum of Marx's view of capital and the theory of surplus value but delves too deeply into Marx's linguistic style, his excuses for not finishing the book on time (he was delayed by decades), and the way in which Marxists later hijacked Marxism as an ideology rather than a dialectical method of thought, which was the essence of Kapital. In short, the book did not provide me with a summary of Das Kapital but did make me appreciate Marx's efforts as well as his misguided genius. It is clear that Marx may not have been the prophet of a victorious socialist revolution, but was a brilliant observer of capitalism who was well before his time.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Poor, light, an excuse to cash in a pay ... The work is superficial, flimsy (about 100 pages); and the only part somehow worth reading is the final (about 8-10 pages) - where the author reminds us of some interesting remarks that more modern economists made on Das Kapital. As one who had also read Blackburn's "Plato's Republic" in the same series, I am frustrated by the lack of quality in this new book, the rush with which this author (WHEEN) collects his check mark and moves on to some other (si Poor, light, an excuse to cash in a pay ... The work is superficial, flimsy (about 100 pages); and the only part somehow worth reading is the final (about 8-10 pages) - where the author reminds us of some interesting remarks that more modern economists made on Das Kapital. As one who had also read Blackburn's "Plato's Republic" in the same series, I am frustrated by the lack of quality in this new book, the rush with which this author (WHEEN) collects his check mark and moves on to some other (similarly superficial?) project. There is no comparison between the two authors and how they chose to approach/address the task at hand - discovering their respective subject books (The Republic, Das Kapital) to the reader. Sadly, Wheen's work - just as his name - asks one to whine. The only positive, one gets this thing read in about 2 hrs.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leyla Ahmed

    Marx, Marx, Marx. Francis Wheen provides a brief insight into your workings (Das Kapital) for those unlikely to be able to finish the volumes in this lifetime (sorry - quite frankly Marx those books look daunting for your average soul). whilst it is 'short and sweet', it does however still happen to facilitate the 'seed of revolution' within me. oh Marx, you are indeed a farrago of misinterpretations and misrepresentations - understood largely as a rigid materialist theorist however the grace in Marx, Marx, Marx. Francis Wheen provides a brief insight into your workings (Das Kapital) for those unlikely to be able to finish the volumes in this lifetime (sorry - quite frankly Marx those books look daunting for your average soul). whilst it is 'short and sweet', it does however still happen to facilitate the 'seed of revolution' within me. oh Marx, you are indeed a farrago of misinterpretations and misrepresentations - understood largely as a rigid materialist theorist however the grace in which Francis attempts to negate such common connotations of you is admirrable. this book is perfect for (slight) idealists as it serves (apparently) 'utopian thinking' from a realistic lens. interesting read about the processes that precluded the volumes.

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