Sujatha Fernandes reviews 'Karl Marx: Greatness and illusion' by Gareth Stedman Jones

Sujatha Fernandes reviews 'Karl Marx: Greatness and illusion' by Gareth Stedman Jones

Karl Marx: Greatness and illusion

by Gareth Stedman Jones

Allen Lane, $79.99 hb, 750 pp, 9780713999044

In this 750-page tome, Gareth Stedman Jones, a British historian and former editor of New Left Review, seeks to rescue the revolutionary thinker Karl Marx from the ‘Marxism’  he sees as the creation of his long-time collaborator Friedrich Engels and to reconstruct him as part of the nineteenth-century political and philosophical context in which he existed.

Given the luxury of space, Karl Marx: Greatness and illusion is a deeply immersive and absorbing account of the life, times, theories, and politics of Marx. His personal and family life is interwoven with accounts of the political turmoil of the era that gave rise to his ground-breaking work. The detailed accounts of vibrant café culture, heady and heated debates between leading intellectuals, and the ferment of a Europe in the throes of bourgeois revolutions evoke the heady cocktail of conditions that spurred Marx’s thought.

Marx was born in 1818 in the Rhineland, an area situated between France and the German Confederation. Europe was attempting to rebuild itself following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, which had killed an estimated five million Europeans. An aspiring poet, Marx entered the academy and wrote a doctoral dissertation on the implications of Epicurus’s theory of the atom, pitched as a defence of the Hegelian theory of idealism that he would later dedicate his work to critiquing. As the revolutions of 1848 unfolded, Marx, his wife, Jenny von Westphalen, and their three surviving daughters moved from Berlin to Paris to Belgium to London, where they finally settled. It was in London that Marx was finally able to earn a somewhat stable living as the European correspondent for the New-York Daily Tribune.

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Sujatha Fernandes

Sujatha Fernandes

Sujatha Fernandes is a Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney. She was formerly a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is the author of several books and articles on Caribbean cultural politics, hip hop culture, and global social movements. Her new book, Curated Stories: How storytelling is hindering social change, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

Published in March 2017, no. 389

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.