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Karl Marx A Life Francis Wheen New York Norton 1999 431pp There were only 11 mourners at Karl Marxs funeral in Highgate cemetery on March 17th 1883 but within a hundred years of his death governments that professed Marxism as their guiding faith ruled half the worlds population Not since Jesus Christ has an obscure pauper inspired such global devotion or so been so calamitously misinterpretedp1 It is easy to forget that Marx was also human Neither his enemies nor his disciples have been willing to admit as much in the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin he was declared a saint while the West demonized him as the father of all evil In Francis Wheens Karl Marx A Life he presents Marx as an intricate and vulnerable figure a Prussian refugee who in Wheens words became a middle-class English gentleman an angry agitator who spent much of his adult life in the scholarly silence of the British Museum Reading Room a gregarious and convivial host who fell out with almost all his friends a devoted family man who impregnated his housemaid and a deeply earnest philosopher who loved drink cigars and jokes He was a prodigal son to whom his mother said I wish you would make some capital instead of just writing about it The permanently impoverished pamphleteer was inordinately proud of his wifes aristocratic background the father grieving bitterly over the loss of his child the player of the stock market forever plagued by boils on the bum and tension headaches that paralyzed him for days Unlike the legion of biographers who have dealt primarily with Marxist economic theory it is Wheens goal to avoid another lengthy volume on class struggle dialectical materialism and the triumph of the proletariat Instead the author is drawn to the more human aspect of the father of Communism in an attempt to demolish the myths that obscure the man behind the theories Wheen does however
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