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Karl Marx: His Life and Environment, Fourth Edition [Paperback]

Isaiah Berlin , Alan Ryan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 12, 1996 0195103262 978-0195103267 4
First published over fifty years ago, Isaiah Berlin's compelling portrait of the father of socialism has long been considered a classic of modern scholarship and the best short account written of Marx's life and thought. It provides a penetrating, lucid, and comprehensive introduction to Marx as theorist of the socialist revolution, illuminating his personality and ideas, and concentrating on those which have historically formed the central core of Marxism as a theory and practice. Berlin goes on to present an account of Marx's life as one of the most influential and incendiary social philosophers of the twentieth century and depicts the social and political atmosphere in which Marx wrote.
This edition includes a new introduction by Alan Ryan which traces the place of Berlin's Marx from its pre-World War II publication to the present, and elucidates why Berlin's portrait, in the midst of voluminous writings about Marx, remains the classic account of the personal and political side of this monumental figure.

Editorial Reviews


"Hundreds of windier tomes have been cranked out since on the father of Communism but this is still the most comprehensive and by far the most gracefully written." Scene

" a portrait of the man and the intellectual climate of the mid-nineteenth century it is , perhaps, the finest we have in any European language."--Chimen Abramsky, Jewish Chronicle

"Presents a view of Marx which is both sympathetic and detached. Berlin seizes the point of what Marx wrote and did without sharing Marx's illusions. His accounts of Marx's theses are sometimes more effective that Marx's own word's, and his descriptions of Marx as a man are remarkably vivid in a book that is so largely concerned with ideas."--Political Studies

"The author's admirable ability to translate many abstruse and obscure notions of Marxism into a clear language and his virtuosity in showing connections between personalities, characters, attitudes on the one hand and doctrinal issues on the other are unparalleled in the existing literature."--Leszek Kolakowski

About the Author

Isaiah Berlin is a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University, and past President of the British Academy. He is the author of The Age of Enlightenment, Four Essays on Liberty, Personal Impressions, The Crooked Timber, Vico and Herder and Russian Thinkers.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 4 edition (September 12, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195103262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195103267
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,011,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars PURE AND PROPER INTELLECTUAL HISTORY November 20, 2002
Let me say that if you are looking for a biography of Marx's life you had better look elsewhere. There are no long chapters about his school days, his relations with his Sisters, Mother or Father. You will not find detailed references to every argument Marx had or every aspect of his squallid and, at times, extremely personally irresponsible lifestyle. You must look elsewhere for those details.
This book is about ideas and the struggle between ideas. It is about Marx emersed in the ideas of his time and how those ideas shaped his thinking, whether changing his ideas, borrowing or regjecting them outright Berlin has a wonderful, at times unique grasp of the issues and the ideas of the times that Marx lived.
Starting with a broad description of the Rational-Empiricist debate and the Hegelian reaction to empiricism, Berlin describes Marx as a unique German Hybrid of British Empiricism married to a searching German Hegelian spirit, dissatisified with the traditional historical interpertations offered by Hegel and his German offshoots, the Young Hegelians.
Along the way Marx comes across a uniques set of millenarian and social theorists of his time; Proudhom, Bakunin, Engels, Lasalle, Feuerbach and others, whom all, even though perhaps disliking Marx personally, respected his argument style, his learning, and his deep insight into the problems of the time.
I would not classify this as a beginning book on Marx. There is a lot of ground covered here and if one does not have at least a thumbnail sketch understanding of the times, the social and political issues, then there will be a chance that the author will loose some of his readership. Berlin's prose has been described variously as dense and hard to understand. It may be for some readers.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IT'S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS July 17, 2003
Isaiah Berlin's biography of Karl Marx is as erudite as it is compelling. Taking one of the more controversial and laborious men of the twentieth century as his subject matter, Berlin weaves the intricate and sometimes confounding thoughts of his subject into a patterned and complex whole.
Karl Marx is treated fairly in this book--neither with sycophantic adulation nor with profound cynicism typical of other treatments of Marx and his philosophy. Perhaps because of the political consequences of Marx's ideas, the negative overview's of his life have emphasized his tempermental side, the irony of being funded by an aristocratic Engels, or the silliness of his labour theory of value premise (shared by David Ricardo). Meanwhile, on the other side, there are writings on the life of Marx that stick to his genius, his profound impact on the world, and further entrench his cult status.
It is this latter part that I found most interesting in Berlin's work--the exploration of Marx's temper tantrums with anyone who should deviate from Marx's conception of how things must be. Proudhon, for instance, is castigated by Marx. So, too, is Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians (Berlin muses about whether or not this has to do with the mighty influence these have had on Marx's own thought and Marx's desire to be seen as a wholly original thinker). Bakunin does not escape public ridicule when they differ on the value of the State as a mechanism to be used by the proletariat. Bakunin, of course, did not believe in hierarchical orderings of any kind--whether in capitalist industry, or in the socialist state--and issued proclamations and gave speeches to that effect, explicitly cautioning people about the possibility of the government violating the freedom it was supposed to secure.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting But Difficult Work September 30, 2001
Isaiah Berlin, in his work "Karl Marx," concentrates on the philosophical development of one of the most influential social thinkers in modern history. Through an examination on Marx's critical analyses of the ideas of his intellectual contemporaries (including Feurbach, Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Proudhon), Berlin explores the many influences that helped shape Marxian thought. Although Marx's immediate successors minimized the impact of Hegel upon Marx's ideas, Berlin maintains that Hegel's influence was essential for the formation of Marx's socio-economic philosophy.
I read this book for a college course and found it very challenging. Often I would have to read over passages several times to even begin to understand the gist of it (and maybe not even then). Of course, the subject matter is very complex. One just beginning to study Marx may want to seek out a more simplified overview of Marxian thought first before tackling this one.
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29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brian Wayne Wells, Esquire, reviews "Karl Marx" January 17, 1998
By A Customer
Like him or not Karl Marx had more impact on the twentieth century than any other thinker in history. He certainly was more important to the twentieth century than to his own nineteenth century. As a result very few people are neutral about Marx. Most of the world either either loves him or hates him.
Isaiah Berlin's 1939 biography of Marx that does a good job in covering the events and people involved in Marx's life, however, the reader must filter out all the anti-communist bias that has been added the text. The bias is unfortunate. This critic feels that Berlin knew better, but the political tenor of Britain and Western Europe in 1939 required hinm to clearly slant his writing in this way.
Because of this slant in the writing the book unintentionally reveals much about British intellectual society in 1939 and the prevailing fear of the Soviet Union which permeated certain sections of the scholastic society in Britain at that time.
As a consequence, the book can not distinguish any of the differences that may have existed between Marx'x theory and the Soviet state of the 1930's.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkness at Noon
The recurring instabilities in the capitalist system have provoked numerous social-economic crises: we live in one right now. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Keith A. Comess
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting philosophy, but little biographical details
Because of the way my brain is wired, I take a lot more interest in the historical than I do in the philosophical. Read more
Published on July 29, 2007 by J. Swagman
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite best autobiography but worth reading
David McLellan's Karl Marx: A Biography is a better standard biography. McLellan had access to much more material about Marx's life than did Berlin and he brings it all together in... Read more
Published on September 29, 2006 by E. Nilsson
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic account of Marx
Rereading the fourth edition of this classic short intellectual biography of Marx, one finds it as interesting as on the first occasion, and the result is a crisp portrait of one... Read more
Published on March 9, 2005 by John C. Landon
5.0 out of 5 stars Shows how capable philosophers can be.
The philosophical side of this book might be a strong support for the idea that philosophy was in bad shape when Nietzsche found it. Read more
Published on March 27, 2002 by Bruce P. Barten
5.0 out of 5 stars Best intro out there
This is simply the best Marx biography out there bar none. It isn't really in the 'biography' genre because Berlin focusses on Marx's ideas more than on the details of his life. Read more
Published on July 27, 2001 by J.S.M.
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
karl marx is the greatest man that has ever lived in the history.
Published on October 12, 1998
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