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The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism Paperback – September 14, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0199836840 ISBN-10: 0199836841 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (September 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199836841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199836840
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,057 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

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 61 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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83 of 91 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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63 of 71 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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lionel D. Youst on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As far as I know, this is the first and only book that deconstructs the global financial crisis of 2008 in terms that Karl Marx presented to the world in Capital, his classic 1867 critique of political economy. David Harvey is Distinguished Professor of Anthropolgy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and author of several books that look at global capitalism, this being probably the easiest for a layman such as myself to appreciate.

For the Capitalist mode of production to work, capital must flow and grow. When compound growth is less than an optimal 3% per annum,there is crisis, and recurrent crises is at the heart of the capitalist mode of production. The perpetual growth that is needed is sustained only by dispossessing others of what they have -- privatizing everything, to the benefit only of the wealthiest one percent of the population. Exposing the enigma of capital is a first step toward knowing what to do about it, and who is to do it.

Harvey admits that there is no viable alternative to the capitalist mode of production. But he suggests that a loosely coordinated "Party of Indignation" might help to confront the perpetuation of endless compound growth and the dire state of social and natural relations that are the result. He sees five broad tendencies that could be coalesced to help force the question. First, there are certain Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) that espouse progressive ideas and causes. Then there are Grassroots Organization (GRO's), some of which have anarchist tendencies but have a high degree of political prominence. Third, there are traditional labor and left leaning political parties (all of which have taken hard hits in recent years).
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