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The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism Hardcover – September 9, 2010

32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199758715 ISBN-10: 0199758719 Edition: 2nd

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"At times of crisis," notes eminent Marxist geographer Harvey (Spaces of Global Capitalism), "the irrationality of capitalism becomes plain for all to see." Harvey excels at a revealing and constructive analysis of global capitalism at a moment when its integration--and the attendant widespread susceptibility to its disruptions and downturns--has never been tighter or the post–cold war Western economic model for the world economy more discredited. The narrative delineates with admirable clarity the arcane details of the current financial crisis, while rehearsing the rise of capitalism as a historically specific "process" plagued by fundamental dilemmas. A Marxist perspective comes augmented and nuanced by wide reference to scholarship, close readings of Marx and Engels, and instructive examples of capitalismÖs basic tendencies in episodes like Henry FordÖs notorious Fordlandia venture in the Amazon. While certain to be controversial even on the broad left, HarveyÖs analysis joins other recent attempts (such as Raj PatelÖs The Value of Nothing) to re-think the current economic and political regime from its roots, while identifying and variously championing ready alternatives already manifesting themselves within it.
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From Booklist

Harvey, longtime academic teaching Karl Marx’s Das Capital, discusses capital flow, which is the lifeblood of all capitalist societies, spreading throughout the world like blood circulating through the human body, noting that the body dies when the blood flow stops. The author contends that many economists, executives, and politicians may not fully understand the nature of capital flows as the global institutions and lenders suck the life blood out of people everywhere, especially the poor, and central bankers’ actions result in excess liquidity, falsely believing such transfusions will cure capital-flow problems. We learn about the disruptions and destruction of capital flow and the author’s suggested guiding norms (which he readily admits are utopian), including respect for nature, radical equality in social relations, and technological and organizational innovations oriented toward the common good rather than supporting military power and corporate greed. Although this is clearly a view from the Left, and all readers will not agree with Harvey, he nevertheless offers thought-provoking analysis and ideas in this excellent but challenging book. --Mary Whaley
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (September 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199758719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199758715
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Harvey teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and is the author of many books including Social Justice and the City, The Condition of Postmodernity, The Limits to Capital, A Brief History of Neoliberalism and Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on November 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
David Harvey is probably both the best known and most prolific author on popular topics in Marxist economics today, and this is one of his best books so far. Working always from his perspective as an economic geographer, in "The Enigma of Capital" he uses the occasion of the current financial crisis to provide a lengthy and highly accessible popular overview of the theory of capital. He analyzes what capital is, where it came from, how it accumulates, how it relates to markets, what the role is of ground rent and localization in its movement (both metaphorical and real), and finally combines all this into a highly compelling political economic narrative. What is especially virtuous about this book, even compared with some of Harvey's excellent earlier works, is his ability to explain the general thrust of Marxist political economy in a manner that is easily understood by the wider newspaper-reading public and without using virtually any of the specific technical terminology of Marxism, as well as avoiding any of the explicit political content that is specific to Marxism (other than a very skeptical attitude towards capitalism as such). This is no mean feat given the complicated nature of capital and the different levels of analysis it seems to require to be fully understood. Harvey of course adds to the fairly traditional Marxist picture so narrated his own particular emphasis on place and space as essential mediating elements in capital's circulation, both economically and politically. I think this is a useful and important addition, in particular with an eye to the local impact of political economy becoming 'real' in this way - one need but look at Newcastle or Detroit and see what this means.Read more ›
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful By J. Edgar Mihelic on November 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
David Harvey ably and rather succinctly runs down the structural problem with capitalism as we know it. He focuses on the different ways Capital has had to evolve to continue its "3% Compound Growth" year after year. The results in the real world aren't pretty, but as Harvey covers them in his book, they are elegantly done. I have read several books that have focused on the most recent crisis in the capitalistic system and Harvey's tome is one that covers the specifics fairly well but is at its best looking at the global structural problem that is not specific to a time and place.

I was particularly impressed with the final chapter, as anyone with such a cogent criticism must be able to imagine a better world. Harvey answers the eternal question "What is to be done?" with a pragmatic and undogmatic response that recognizes the variability that necessitate a multi-pronged approach to moving to a post-capitalistic world that looks to the future and not the past. I am still pessimistic about the short term future, but it is hard to have too much pessimism when there are talented individuals like David Harvey out in the world teaching and writing - I just hope more people start listening.
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64 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Megan Morrissey on October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"At times of crisis, the irrationality of capitalism becomes plain for all to see," Harvey writes at the beginning of the last chapter in The Enigma of Capital. He describes this irrationality with characteristic wisdom and analytic clarity. This book is an entertaining explanation of the current economic crisis and its significance in history. Harvey's forty-year career has been spent teaching and writing about Marx, but he is not so much a "Marxist" as a scholar of Marx; he analyzes capitalism using the tools and the perspectives that Marx provided, while also recognizing their limits and building on them in order to move forward the kind of rigorous critique of capitalism that is absolutely essential right now.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ian Delairre on February 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
David Harvey seems professorial and pedantic in his leisurely explanation of the various faults of capitalism. The argument of the book is basically a remix and rehash of his truly excellent "Limits of Capital" and his lectures on Marx's first volume of "Capital" but without the same academic rigor, citation, and desire for explication or elucidation. After the relatively informative first chapter we are left to take much at his word. As the work progresses Harvey deviates here and there into only peripherally related musings. For instance, an argument against Peak Oil, a haphazard account of Marx's conception of nature, and critique of Malthus appears in the chapter "Capital Goes to Work" which was supposed to explain how capital harnesses and coordinates labor. I was looking for a Marxist account of the financial collapse in 2008, a rigorous analysis of finance capital (the credit/banking system and its systemic weaknesses), and an overall picture of the contemporary economic situation in terms of political economy. In short, I wanted the 'enigma of capital' banished as promised. What I got was something akin to the moralizing rants of my Marxist sociology teacher in college: histrionic and poorly founded. But David Harvey doesn't even emerge as passionate and the performance is lacking. Perhaps this is meant to be a popular work, but I know that David Harvey is capable of much more. However, the question remains, if this is dissatisfying to me, someone favorable to Marxism, how can it hope be compelling to a hostile audience?
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