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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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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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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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.

6 of 6 people found this review 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.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Pittsburgh, PA, United States
  • 12-12-16

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.

1 of 1 people found this review 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.

1 of 1 people found this review 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.

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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.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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KARL MARX

Johnathan Sperber has gathered an impressive amount of data in a history of Karl Marx’s life. Sadly, his presentation is not equal to his collection. Unlike biographies done by Robert Caro (wrote “The Power Broker” about Robert Moses, the land planner of New York, and former President, Lyndon Johnson) or William Manchester (a Winston Churchill Biographer), Sperber fails to bring his subject to life.

Marx is considered by some to be one of the three most influential economists that ever lived (Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes being the other two.) That influence is not felt by a reader or listener of Sperber’s biography. Sperber offers facts but leaves coherence to the consumer.

Sperber offers a lot of information about Marx’s family life and Friedrich Engels, his primary benefactor (ironically, a capitalist factory owner). But, this is a disappointing book because it garners too little interest in the power and influence of Marx’s economic theory.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Eh

Is there anything you would change about this book?

I tend to listen to audiobooks whilst doing other activities, e.g. driving, manual labour, shopping, etc. This one is difficult to follow, not because the Marxian ideas are themselves so difficult, but the biography is a bit flat. It lacks the colour and depth that has kept my attention in other books and biographies. Sometimes it feels like a listing of chronological facts.

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

He frequently accents the wrong syllable in foreign or philosophical terminology. For example, he says for the philosopher Hegel: "heGel" rather than Hāgel, or for émigré: "eMIgrā" rather than emigrĀ, as the French accenting makes plain. These are not minor annoyances because of their frequency, and it feels like listening to a lecture by someone who does not know the subject matter. Also, his style of American cadence is grating, at least to me. He tends to raise his voice at commas almost in the fashion of a question mark.

Was Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life worth the listening time?

Yes, but only for an interest in Marx.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful