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Marx: A Very Short Introduction [Paperback]

Peter Singer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 18, 2001 0192854054 978-0192854056
In Marx: A Very Short Introdution, Peter Singer identifies the central vision that unifies Marx's thought, enabling us to grasp Marx's views as a whole. He sees him as a philosopher primarily concerned with human freedom, rather than as an economist or a social scientist. In plain English, he explains alienation, historical materialism, the economic theory of Capital, and Marx's ideas of communism, and concludes with an assessment of Marx's legacy.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192854054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192854056
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.4 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An almost ideal introduction to the subject. August 21, 2003
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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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible - Unlike Marxism May 14, 2000
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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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An easy to follow introduction April 12, 2005
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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb introduction to Marx's thought 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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and sweet 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excelent !!!
It's a very good oeuvre. I enjoyed it because of the magistral knowledge of the marxist theory and the syntesis the author has made.
Published 4 months ago by Rasbe
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, short, synopsis.
Sparred me the trouble of having to pour through Marx's indelibly tedious waffle. Many thanks to Peter Singer for having taken the trouble to reduce the Marxists ideals and... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Martin Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Provoking Introduction
This addition to the VSI series is among the best I have read. It is clearly organized and concisely written with out sacrificing readability. Read more
Published 16 months ago by John Morrill
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to Marx
This book was perfect for an introduction to Marx. As a Libertarian, I needed to understand the thinking behind the man and philosophy that has swept the world. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Marty Zigman
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly fair evaluation of Marx, but Singer's need to discredit him...
Peter Singer's description of Marx's life and ideas is mostly fair and lucid, but sometimes he unfairly criticizes Marx or simply calls an idea or claim of his "obviously wrong" or... Read more
Published 20 months ago by cathcart
2.0 out of 5 stars Old and in the way
This book was written in 1980. I haven't read much Marx, just the "Communist Manifesto," and this is the first book about Marx I've read, but it seems clear enough that there is... Read more
Published on September 1, 2011 by David C. Davis
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Marx still a contender?
Though what some called "Marxism" seems mostly wiped from the earth (with some notable exceptions), the eponymous system never completely disappeared from the popular conscious. Read more
Published on April 9, 2011 by ewomack
5.0 out of 5 stars Never mind the size, feel the quality
After reading the "Manifesto", Engels' "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific" and Lenin's "State and the Revolution" anybody embarking on a study of Marxism should read this wonderful... Read more
Published on March 11, 2011 by Derek Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars great
item was exactly as described and in great condition...arrived in a timely fashion, thanks!! A+
Published on June 25, 2009 by Nicholas Cruz
4.0 out of 5 stars The Last Prophet?
Because I like short books, I have tried several of the "Very Short Introduction..." series. I have been unable to finish any of them. Read more
Published on October 22, 2008 by Omer Belsky
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