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Publisher's Summary

Karl Marx is a magisterial and defining biography that vividly explores not only the man himself but also the revolutionary times in which he lived. Between his birth in 1818 and his death 65 years later, Karl Marx became one of Western civilization's most influential political philosophers. Two centuries on, he is still revered as a prophet of the modern world, yet he is also blamed for the darkest atrocities of modern times. But no matter in what light he is cast, the short, but broad-shouldered, bearded Marx remains - as a human being - distorted on a Procrustean bed of political "isms", perceived through the partially distorting lens of his chief disciple, Friedrich Engels, or understood as a figure of 20th-century totalitarian Marxist regimes.

Returning Marx to the Victorian confines of the 19th century, Jonathan Sperber, one of the United States' leading European historians, challenges many of our misconceptions of this political firebrand turned London journalist. In this deeply humanizing portrait, Marx no longer is the Olympian soothsayer, divining the dialectical imperatives of human history, but a scholar-activist whose revolutionary Weltanschauung was closer to Robespierre's than to those of 20th-century Marxists.

With unlimited access to the MEGA (the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, the total edition of Marx's and Engels' writings), only recently available, Sperber juxtaposes the private man, the public agitator, and the philosopher-economist. With Napoleon III, Bismarck, Adam Smith, and Charles Darwin, among others, as supporting players, Karl Marx becomes not just a biography of a man but a vibrant portrait of an infinitely complex time. Already hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a major work... likely to be the standard biography of Marx for many years," Karl Marx promises to become the defining portrait of a towering historical figure.

©2013 Jonathan Sperber (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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What listeners say about Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Informative intellectual biography, poor reading

If you could sum up Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life in three words, what would they be?

Hegelian bourgeois battler

Who was your favorite character and why?

Marx -- bourgeois and revolutionary, brawler and family man, workaholic who couldn't finish anything, thinker lodged in Hegelian philosophy who kept revising his ideas in response to each decade's new intellectual trends.

How could the performance have been better?

It's annoying when reviewers point out mispronunciations, but this reader's were especially prolific and egregious. "Émigré" is supposed to be stressed on the first syllable, not the second. The same goes for "Hegel." Both these words are repeated innumerable times. "Bon mots" does not rhyme with "Don Knotts." And so on.

Any additional comments?

I found some long sections, devoted to Marx's nasty struggles with various rival socialist leaders, a bit tedious in audiobook format. The third and final part of the book, which steps back from the fray to assess Marx's work in broader contexts, is the most engagingly written.

11 people found this helpful

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Every German word is miss-pronounced

What didn’t you like about Kevin Stillwell’s performance?

Kevin has no command of the German language and manages to miss-pronounce every German word (and there are quite a few of them) to point where the word becomes unrecognizable to a native German speaker.

Any additional comments?

Miss-pronunciations are the typos of audio books.

8 people found this helpful

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Good Historiography, Not Great Narration

Would prefer the narrator of a European historical text to be able to properly pronounce words from German and French.

8 people found this helpful

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Very Scholarly Treatment of Marx

Karl Marx has to be a difficult person to treat objectively, as neither hero nor villain. But Jonathan Sperber manages to do that in my opinion. And he does it by deliberately situating Marx in the nineteenth century, hence the subtitle. The book is professional, scholarly, and moderately challenging. Rather than viewing Marx through the lens of twentieth century communism Sperber focuses on his nineteenth century cultural and intellectual contexts. Instead of Marx in proximity to Lenin, Stalin, and Mao we get Marx in proximity to Hegel, Feuerbach, Bauer, Bakunin, Ricardo, etc. To me this seems much more illuminating to Marx's biography. While it's totally appropriate to adapt Marx's ideas to later developments it's a different project from understanding what Marx meant to say when he said it, which may be distinct in many cases from later Marxist interpretations. The Marx that emerges is neither a brilliant prophet nor a failing fool. Sperber's Marx is a thoroughly nineteenth century figure who was intimately involved in and contributed to the major issues alive in Europe at that time, something I find fascinating as a student of European history. Rather than Marx through the lens of twentieth century communism we get the nineteenth century through the lens of Marx, which makes for an interesting study.

The narration was quite good. Some mispronunciations on the German but I didn't find it all that distracting. And other than that it was very engaging.

3 people found this helpful

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bad reader

A generally good introduction to Marx's life and work, but the writer does sometimes explain Marxist ideas using Marx's own (translated) vocabulary. Especially in an audio book I want explanations of such ideas in non-specialist language.

But the main problem here is the reader. His voice is good -- but his pronunciation is gratingly idiosyncratic. Émigrés become eh-MEE-greys. A countess is a kown-TESS. Benjamin Disraeli becomes diz-ray-EE-lee. Hegel becomes heh-GEL. Manque becomes MANK. A cache of weapons becomes a cachet of weapons. And my favorite: a tu quoque argument becomes a too coke argument.

3 people found this helpful

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Philosophical history

I expected more on the historical developments Marx lived through. Instead, this book focuses on Marx's philosophical and personal history - emphasis on the former.

2 people found this helpful

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Truly by far one of the best book on Marx

This book is worth a listen for anyone interested in learning more about Marx and his ideas.

2 people found this helpful

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not bad, not great

I'd is an informative but dry biography. I'd say it is about as average as you can get. The author is very fair to a controversial figure and does a good job bringing in historical context.

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent research, analysis and narrative

Biography at its best. Nuanced, insightful and interesting. Very, very good narration. One to listen to many times.

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Reflecting and Transforming

This biography of Karl Marx tries to situate the philosophy’s works and his political initiatives in the context of 19th century Europe. In doing that, the book gives more attention to the facts that shape Marx’s ideas than to the content and effects of his works. The exposition is clear and fluid. The description of Marx’s family life allows the reader to understand the difficulties he endured and how someway he succeeded in doing his work. Marx was a revolutionary that never capitulated with the ruling Elite, specially in Prussia and Russia. His efforts and reflections are a treasure to mankind.

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  • MR
  • 05-27-20

A satisfyingly thorough biography

An excellent book which fills in many missing details of Marx's life and the development of his ideas. The author gives us a very full picture of the man in the setting of his personal and family life as well as the more familiar context of his engagement with political supporters, rivals, and opponents. The careful and convincing argument identifying him as above all a 19th century thinker located firmly in his time is particularly valuable.

The reader has a good voice and delivers the story at just the right pace and with pleasing expression. Unfortunately, like too many Audible presenters, he often mispronounces words, names, and places. This can be startling and distracting. The worst example is his rendering of Hegel, a name which inevitably recurs frequently throughout the book. During the first half he is 'Heggle' and in the second 'Heg-gell'. Other than that the pure quality of the content makes this a memorable experience.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Bob Layson
  • 01-26-22

Good on the reality of Marx. Poor on the imposs

Good on reality of Marx. Poor on the impossibility of Socialism in one or many a country.

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  • James Mills
  • 12-05-19

Getting to know Karl Marx

I Wanted to know who Karl Marx was. As someone that has limited knowledge on karl Marx and his writings, This seemed to give a good rounded view of what he wrote, when he wrote it, and what was going on in his life. Coving his up bringing to his death.