Love and Capital

If Karl Marx hadn't died in 1883, we can suppose he'd be used to being misunderstood and demonized by now. His story and his ideas are certainly more complex than many of us realize.

Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution reads like a novel. Mary Gabriel, a journalist, editor, and biographer, took eight years to research it. The focus is on relationships. Karl had a very loyal wife, and a devoted family. It was, after all, Marx's family's urgent needs that motivated him to complete his books, including the most famous, Das Kapital. Often, though, the same boisterous needy family contributed to the philosopher's lengthy writing blocks.

Economics, politics, revolution, and the pros and cons of capitalism don't overwhelm the human side of Gabriel's narrative, even though the Marx family, as Gabriel writes, "ate, slept, and breathed political, social, and economic revolution." Much of the material comes from letters by the principal players, which makes for a humanized group portrait.

5 FACTS ABOUT JENNY MARX:

1. Jenny was born into an aristocratic family that didn't approve of Marx. They were engaged for seven years, much of the time maintaining a long-distance relationship while Marx traveled and studied, before they married when she was 29 (he was 25). Karl brought 45 books on their lengthy honeymoon.

2. Jenny bore seven children. Of those, only three daughters survived, and two of them later committed suicide.

3. She stayed with Marx even after he fathered a child with the woman who helped care for their children and lived with them for many years.

4. Jenny and Karl, who were often poverty-stricken political refugees, moved frequently from city to city and country to country, starting over repeatedly with almost nothing.

5. She copied out all his articles and book manuscripts by hand, even when she was ill and despairing, until her eldest daughter took over.

These few facts barely begin to scratch the surface of Gabriel's findings. Marx's alter ego, Friedrich Engels, too, comes to the fore in the book. He was Marx's lifelong writing and thinking partner, as well as a crucial part of his financial support. Engels, who had the same anti-capitalist ideals as Marx, worked for his father's company in order to have a steady income so he could help "the cause."

Love and Capital contains a comprehensive list of characters, not that you need to fix each secondary character in mind to find the story compelling. There's also a "political timeline" so you can place the Marx family in a historical context.

Copyright (2012) by Susan K. Perry

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