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Marx: A Very Short Introduction

30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0192854056
ISBN-10: 0192854054
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Editorial Reviews


"I always recommend that undergraduates should read Singer's book to get an overview. I find it a very useful introduction: succinct and sophisticated."--Professor Diana Coole, University of California, Irvine

"[An] excellent brief presentation of Marx and his teachings, written with clarity and conciseness; up-to-date in its sources, dispassionate in its approach to [Marx] and balanced in its assessment."--Peter McConville, University of San Francisco

"Clear, concise, insightful, and even-handed."--Susan Armstrong-Buck, Humboldt State University

About the Author

Peter Singer is a DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks (January 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192854054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192854056
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.4 x 4.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Augustus Caesar, Ph.D. on August 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Peter Singer's "Marx: A Very Short Introduction" is a superbly lucid and concise introduction to the subject of Marx and Marxism. Assuming the reader has no background in Marx's thought, Singer covers most of the important issues of Marxism and then assesses Marx's achievements and shortcomings in a refreshingly balanced manner.
What makes this book such a valuable introduction is Singer's clear understanding of what lies at the heart of Marxism: the issue of human freedom. Too many works on Marxism reduce it to a merely economic philosophy, which has the destruction of capitalism (and subsequent liberation of the world's workers) as its end. This is a gross misrepresentation of Marx's thought. Marx saw the destruction of capitalism and the establishment of a classless society as means toward the true end which he sought: the liberation of humanity from oppression and exploitation and a return to our true nature as creative, self-actualizing beings rather than mere laboring appendages to an economic machine. Marx envisioned a world in which humanity toiled with its individual and universal fulfillment as the goal, rather than a world in which a few grow rich while the many dig ditches or work in Asian sweatshops for Nike. Freedom, true freedom, was the purpose behind Marx's work and also his life.
I highly recommend this book as a serious, thorough, and fair introduction to this complex subject. Apart from Terry Eagleton's "Marx," there is no better guide than this.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a remarkably clear introduction to the thought of Karl Marx. I was a little dubious when I picked it up (I read 3 or 4 of the Very Short Introduction books each year), since most of my knowledge of Singer is through his work either on Animal Ethics, Utilitarianism, or his critique of George W. Bush. In fact, I became a vegetarian 25 years ago after reading Singer and Gandhi at the same time. Marx, though, is a horse of a different color. I was simply not confident that he would write as well on the founder of Marxism as well as he did on practical ethics. If anything, he turned out to write even more clearly on Marx than anything else I've read.

The problem with Marx is that he wrote so much, much of it in advanced draft form, that one can extract several different Marx's from his pages. It isn't that he is inconsistent that his thinking is constantly in flux as he considers one or another aspect of the issues surrounding capitalism. There truly is no final version of Marx's thought, but rather interim versions. The various books and manuscripts almost serve as commentaries on the other books and manuscripts. The trick is to extract the core of what Marx thought without unduly distorting his work as a whole and without reducing him to a caricature. Singer does a great job of highlighting major themes and trends in Marx's thought while not losing the sense of the difficult of determining with finality precisely what Marx wrote.

The importance of a book like this cannot be overstressed. Anyone who knows anything at all about Marx knows that he would have been appalled at the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century. As Singer rightly points out, Marx would unquestionably have been a victim of one of the purges.
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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Matt Hood on May 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Marx is a highly complex character, whether studied historically, politically, sociologically or (as I had to) all at once. This brief but concise guide to the life and works of Marx is one I have found frankly indispensable. Working chronologically through his life, listing events and ideas, it both explains difficult concepts with clarity and provides context, which makes some of Marx's abstract works spring to life. Singer is almost totally non-judgmental about Marx and his ideas and this adds to the crucial nature this book holds amongst my key reference works.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Marc Honore on April 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
I am doing an MA in political science and my professor screwed his nose up a bit when I showed him this, because Singer is not a name that one associates with Marxism. I bought it because I liked his anthology on Ethics so much. I must say that I don't agree with some of the conclusions that Singer draws in his assessment of Marxism at the end of the book, but his strength is his ability to write at a level that is easy to understand. He avoids jargon where possible and that in itself takes a lot of the mystery out of this stuff. I recommend this book as a good place to start when looking at Marx.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Eric Balkan on December 12, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Probably no name turns off more Americans than "Marx". That's unfortunate, because the 20th century communism associated with Karl Marx is not really a fair representation of Marx's ideas. Not that Marx wasn't wrong on a number of key issues, such as thinking that eliminating private property would produce true individual freedom. But Marx didn't have much use for government, so it's ironic that he's associated with a Leninist-Stalinist model that attempted to put all aspects of life under government control.

Besides Marx the political revolutionary who felt compelled to correct the dreadful condition of the 19th century working class, there's the Marx who's regarded as one of the founders of sociology. "Consciousness does not determine life, but life determines consciousness." (C.f. the then-current Enlightenment view that every decision we make can be as rational as we want it to be, and thus every individual is responsible for his own state in life.)

But on to the review. There's a ton of books about Marx available, as well as pounds of Marx's own writings, so why read this book? Because Prof Singer has written a very readable, very understandable description of Marx's thinking: contradictions, mistakes, and all. And done it concisely.

Prof Singer is sympathetic to Marx the philosopher -- no philosopher ever gets it all right -- and less sympathetic to Marx the economist and "scientific historian". But Singer presents it all in a very well organized fashion, with lots of references to Marx's writings, so that the reader can easily follow along with the main ideas as well as continue on his own.

Personally, I think Singer is too harsh towards Marx the economist, e.g. Marx's prediction that a capitalist system must eventually collapse.
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