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Karl Marx's Theory of History Paperback – December 15, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 12 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


"Winner of the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize"

"[Karl Marx's Theory of History] is an ambitious and impressive work. . . . Cohen writes with limpidity, verve, and honesty."---William H. Shaw, American Historical Review

"A clear, definite, and well-reasoned interpretation of what the theory really is. . . . Admirably argued and generally exhilarating."---Anthony Quinton, The Times Literary Supplement

"Cohen's blend of sound scholarship and acute philosophical reasoning has produced a work with which anyone seriously interested in understanding Marx must come to terms."---Peter Singer, New York Review of Books


"Every sentence has the feel of having been deeply thought through over a long period of time."―Gareth Stedman Jones

Product details

  • Publisher : Princeton University Press; Expanded ed. edition (December 15, 2000)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 430 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0691070687
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0691070681
  • Item Weight : 1.31 pounds
  • Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.18 x 8.5 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 12 ratings

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Reviewed in the United States on December 17, 2017
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S P Mead
5.0 out of 5 stars a major contribution
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 22, 2016
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5.0 out of 5 stars a major contribution
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 22, 2016
This is an exceptionally well-written book that advances a complex and highly interesting thesis regarding Marx's theory of historical materialism. The author, Cohen, seeks to draw on and interpret Marx's writings concerned with understanding 'history' and, on so doing, present a unified and coherent analysis of what history means from a Marxist perspective. The book was first published in 1978 and quickly became recognised as a work of major importance. While Marx was primarily concerned with the political economy of capitalism, he nonetheless dedicated years of study and research to the subject of history. On the one hand, he sought to generally understand the entire social history of humankind (from primitive societies onward, through antiquity and feudalism to modern social formations). On the other hand, Marx was particularly interested in the lineages and dynamics of capitalist society. For Marx, history was not merely a succession of events - rather, he argued that underlying social forces moved history in certain directions. As such, he was intensely fascinated by the 'meaning' of history - and, on that basis, Marx presented a definite 'theory of history'. In this book, Cohen endeavours to explain that theory.

The arguments put forward by Cohen are often complex, and occasionally highly abstract. As such, it's typically the case that a careful re-reading of this book is most rewarding. He explores various topics: productive forces, the economic structure, the material properties of society, base and superstructure, and both use-value and exchange-value. These topics are subjected to a sustained critique, and Cohen presents his own analysis of the theory of history he perceives Marx as advancing. As to the validity of the specifics of his argument, I'll leave that up to the reader to decide. What I will say is that Cohen develops a highly logical approach - and, if one accepts the premises on which his argument rests, then his conclusions are sound. What the author does, in a rather amazing way, is explore and explain the minute detail of particular words and phrases used by Marx, showing what they mean in each given context. As such, Cohen's work is exceptionally thorough.

Few social scientists and philosophers seek to explain the meaning of history by theorising 'history' itself. Marx sought to do so - but often as a secondary task (with notes and draft materials left unpublished). Cohen collects all of Marx's ideas regarding history and succeeds in presenting a highly interesting argument concerning Marx's theory. For anyone fascinated by either Marx or history, I recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Analysis and Mehod
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 8, 2012
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