three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
By: 
Mary Gabriel
user_rating: 
0

Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution

A-Love and CapitalMary Gabriel, who lives in Italy, is the author of two previous biographies, Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, and The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of Etta and Claribel Cone.

The Topic: Karl Marx is best known for his revolutionary idealism. But rather than examine his socialist philosophies, Mary Gabriel focuses on the complex story centered on his great loves: Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of a Prussian baron; their six children, three of whom died in infancy; and his friend, partner, and benefactor Friedrich Engels, who supported Karl and his family and revived Capital after his death. Gabriel explores all aspects of the charismatic Karl's family life, from its crushing poverty to Karl's infidelities and his inability to acknowledge his failures, their run from European governments, and the tragedy that befell them. Ultimately, writes Gabriel, their's is "the story of a group of brilliant, combative, exasperating, funny, passionate, and ... tragic figures caught up in the revolutions sweeping nineteenth-century Europe."
Little, Brown. 768 pages. $35. ISBN: 9780316066112

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Like all good biographers, Gabriel manages to humanize a subject who most know only as an institution or, as she writes, ‘a massive head atop a granite plinth at Highgate Cemetery.' ... She doesn't contrive profound implications about Marx's work from his deeply flawed character, but given our acrimonious politics this commanding book will surely be greeted as anti-Marx ammunition." Michael Washburn

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Hard to imagine that a weighty book on Karl Marx could be a page-turner, but this one is. ... Whatever you think of his ideas, this biography ... is a compelling study of Marx's revolutionary idealism and the price his loved ones paid for it." Elaine Showalter

Barnes and Noble 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[O]ne ends the book still feeling somewhat remote from [Marx's wife and daughters]--as one does, despite Gabriel's efforts, from Marx himself. Love and Capital is well researched and does a fine job of relaying historical facts, but it will leave at least some readers longing for a deeper delving into the daily texture of its subjects' lives, an intimate portrait rather than a deftly sketched big picture." Troy Jollimor

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Love and Capital is, in many ways, a buddy story: The recurring motif is the joyful bond between Marx and Engels. ... Ultimately, [it] loses both dramatic force and conceptual coherence after the successive deaths of Jenny and Karl." Jennifer Siegel

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"No one should disagree with Plutarch's view that personality matters in history, but Gabriel writes in her introduction that without the women in Marx's life, ‘there would have been no Karl Marx, and without Karl Marx the world would not be as we know it.' Is that really true? Did the Dickensian facts of Marx's family life, no matter how delicious, change the world?" Simon Sebag Montefiore

Critical Summary

Love and Capital, far from a dry tome on Marx's philosophy, offers a juicy, beautifully written, and bittersweet drama about a man--somewhat out of favor today--and his times. Although Gabriel focuses on Karl and his family, she contextualizes them against working-class discontent in Europe and elsewhere. To a large extent Karl, with all his hypocrisies, comes alive. However, the narrative is a bit uneven: Marx's life and friendship with Engels captivated most reviewers, but the last 100 pages, devoted to Marx's daughters and Engels' efforts to order the Capital manuscripts, interested them less. Still, if the book does not delve as deeply into the family as some wished, "it does encourage a broader appreciation for the man himself" (Wall Street Journal).