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An Introduction to Karl Marx

3.2 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521338318
ISBN-10: 052133831X
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Editorial Reviews

Book Description

A critical introduction to Marx's social, political and economic thought that stresses the relevance and importance of many of the philosopher's theories. It can be considered a standard basic reference work for the study of Marx in conjunction with the author's companion selection of Marx's writings, Karl Marx: A Reader.

From the Back Cover

A concise and comprehensive introduction to Marx's social, political, and economic thought for the beginning student. The author surveys in turn each of the main themes of Marxist thought: methodology, alienation, economics, exploitation, historical materialism, classes, politics, and ideology; in a final chapter he assesses 'what is living and what is dead in the philosophy of Marx.'
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 25, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052133831X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521338318
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #997,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Elster's book serves as a poor introduction to Marx's thought for several reasons. First, Elster doesn't lay out Marx's specific doctrines in much detail, leaving the reader with a mere impression instead of an understanding of the theories involved. Much lack of clarity and detail results from Elster's eagerness to refute specific theories at the same time he presents them. Moreover his interpretations are consistently uncharitable. Combined with little effort at elaborating Marx's theories to meet the objections, we're left with a pretty partisan result, and one made paradoxical by Elster's own self-described Marxism.
The impression throughout is of superficiality. I suspect much of this superficiality results from Elster's "methodological individualism" and fashionable reliance on game theory, the current paradigm of rationable behavior. Small wonder that Elster finds sympathy only in certain Marxian themes rather than specific results, given Marx's general allegiance to holistic forms of explanation. The book's unsatisfactory nature is almost redeemed by an outstanding chapter on self-realization as Marx's chief social value. The rest of the chapters pale in comparison to this little gem among the castoffs.
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Format: Paperback
An introduction should be just that, an introduction. At the very least, this means that exposition should predominate over commentary. When a work reverses those roles, the result is commentary, not introduction, regardless of title or pretensions to the contrary.This is basic to the genre, and has nothing to do with allegiance on part of writer, reader, or reviewer. The axiom that a reader cannot judge intelligently without first understanding what is being judged (in this case Marx) underlies the significance of exposition to an introduction, and speaks to an elementary point that apparently eludes the overzealous reviewer below. Properly understood, Elster's work is commentary, with its own agenda, and scant if any attention to the needs of introduction, let alone a good one. (Notice how Elster's preferred methodology is given priority of place and then used to critique what little is presented of Marx's.) I would have no quarrel were the book titled *Elster on Marx* or *Making Sense of Marx*. Nor do I necessarily have a quarrel with those who criticize or revise Marx. But to title a work Introduction and then bury a smattering of exposition inside a running critique - no matter how worthy or not the commentary - is to do reader and purchaser a disservice. Unfortunately, the book is about Elster, not Marx, and while there are many other introductions that do the job properly, this is not one of them. And, no, Mr. Ver Sluys, this is not about that tiresome chestnut of subservience to Marx - for that, I suggest you check your own effusions on Elster. What it is about is truth in packaging for readers who wish to make up their own minds.
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Format: Paperback
Apparently the gentleman below and I have read different books with the same title, because the book I read, "An Introduction to Karl Marx" by Jon Elster, was absolutely nothing like the book mr. Doepke reviewed.
The book, as far as I can tell with my level of marxian scholarship, is a complete introductoin, and it suffered from none of the failings attributed by it below. Descriptions flowed easily and succintly and I had no trouble understanding them at all. Perhaps this is because I am more of an advanced marx scholar than our other reviewer friend.
But I suspect that the reason mr. Doepke is not happy with this book is because it is a disspasionate consideration of Marxian ideas from a supremely educated man who holds no special religious-kind of attraction to Marx, as so many Marx scholars do.
Let there be no doubt- the disspasionate nature of mr. Elster's analysis of Marx and his contributions is what makes him a rare find. Most all Marx scholars have some kind of agenda in approaching marx, and are colored accordingly (Tom Sowell and Edward Herman, for example).
To his undying credit, Mr. Elster is a leftist who seems to have no agenda in speaking about Marx. Stunningly, he without exception atomizes Marx's main theses and considers them both seperately and as a whole. The result is incisive and dead-on commentary that no other scholar alive has ever even approached, to my knowledge.
What George Orwell did for concretly existing communist governments Jon Elster has done for Marxian theory- a deadly accurate eye methodically slashing through to the real core.
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Format: Paperback
I agree with the reviewer who suggested the title "Elster on Marx" might summarize the contents better than "An Introduction to Karl Marx" if Elster's goal is to introduce Marx to newcomers. But Elster right from the start lays out his point of view (methodological individualism, rational choice theory etc.), and I find no claim to dispassionate objectivity. It has the necessary caveats, and it is an erudite analysis.

Marx is one of history's most fussed-over figures, and I'd prefer to see an introduction to him lay out the data a bit more disinterestedly -- in the first part of the book, anyway -- and in the second part announce, "Now here is where I stand." That is exactly Thomas Sowell's approach in "Marxism: Philosophy and Economics". Plus, between the two authors, Sowell seems to directly quote Marx & Engels twice or three times as much. Now there's novel idea -- Marx on Marx!

If I were making a reading list for a freshman intro course in social science, I'd pick Sowell's book.
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