Capital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics)
This is another one of those reviews that feels a bit silly. If you’re interested in a life of a mind, you should read Capital. It’s one of the top ten most important books in history, and I am profoundly unqualified to review or critique it. However, this is America, and it is my god given right to post book reviews on my blog, so fuck you.
One of the great misconceptions about Capital is that it is dry and difficult. Many people seem to think that reading it would be a chore. Not true. Admittedly, I was lucky enough to read it with David Harvey, a pretty engaging dude in his own right, but I think even if you were to read it on your own or in a study group, you’d find it funny, engaging, and not all that hard. It assumes perhaps a small amount of understanding of classical political economy (Malthus, Smith, Ricardo, etc) but not much. A copy of the vintage edition and access to Wikipedia is really all you need.
Still, I’d say if you’re going to read it, read it in a group. Some of the ideas need to be worked out, but four friends of average intelligence can understand this book with a minimal level of effort.
That said, is it worth it for you to take the time to read this monster? I’d say so. While I may think a number of Marx’s ideas as laid out here are just plain wrong,* and the ideas of many of those who followed in his footsteps to be even more misguided, I still think this is one of the most important books in history.
As a friend once wrote about Capital, “this is literature”. It definitely is, with all the complications that come with that classification. This book does not explain the workings of a capitalist economy. It is not a science textbook. It is a brilliant work that is part history, part political theory and part a discussion (and refutation) of classical political economy. Everyone should read it, but no one should take it all at face value.
* I think the labor theory of value doesn’t hold up, and predictions of the inevitable death crisis in capitalism have proven to be, well, wrong. That isn’t to say there isn’t a ton to learn from this book. Marx’s analysis of the growth of the capitalist economy may not always be historically dead on, but it is valid, brilliantly argued, and worth grappling with.
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