This page contains a list of the eight best books on or by Karl Marx. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Marx” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by Marx. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Marx. Here are the best books on or by Marx in no particular order:
Selected Writings – Karl Marx
Publisher description: This second edition of McLellan’s comprehensive selection of Marx’s writings includes carefully selected extracts from the whole range of Marx’s political, philosophical, and economic thought. Each section of the book deals with a different period of Marx’s life, allowing readers to trace the development of his thought from his early years as a student and political journalist in Germany up through the final letters he wrote in the early 1880s. A fully updated editorial introduction and bibliography has been included for each extract in this new edition.
Why Read Marx Today? – Jonathan Wolff
Publisher description: The fall of the Berlin Wall had enormous symbolic resonance, marking the collapse of Marxist politics and economics. Indeed, Marxist regimes have failed miserably, and with them, it seems, all reason to take the writings of Karl Marx seriously.
Jonathan Wolff argues that if we detach Marx the critic of current society from Marx the prophet of some never-to-be-realized worker’s paradise, he remains the most impressive critic we have of liberal, capitalist, bourgeois society. The author shows how Marx’s main ideas still shed light on wider concerns about culture and society and he guides the reader through Marx’s notoriously difficult writings. Wolff also argues that the value of a great thinker does not depend on his or her views being true, but on other features such as originality, insight, and systematic vision. From this perspective, Marx still richly deserves to be read. Why Read Marx Today? reinstates Marx as an important critic of current society, and not just a figure of historical interest.
Karl Marx: A Biography – David McLellan
Publisher description: All the great political revolutions of the twentieth century referred back to Marx. Reviled by some, revered by many, Marx’s influence can be found in every area of the humanities and social sciences from literary criticism to globalization. In this thoroughly revised and updated new edition of his classic biography, David McLellan provides a clear and detailed account both of Marx’s dramatic life and of his path-breaking thought together with a wealth of bibliographical information for further reading.
The Cambridge Companion to Marx – Terrell Carver
Publisher description: Marx was a highly original and polymathic thinker, unhampered by disciplinary boundaries, whose intellectual influence has been enormous. Yet in the wake of the collapse of Marxism-Leninism in Eastern Europe the question arises as to how important his work really is for us now. An important dimension of this volume is to place Marx’s writings in their historical context and to separate what he actually said from what others (in particular, Engels) interpreted him as saying. Informed by current debates and new perspectives, the volume provides a comprehensive coverage of all the major areas to which Marx made significant contributions.
The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
Publisher description: In the two decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall, global capitalism became entrenched in its modern, neoliberal form. Its triumph was so complete that the word “capitalism” itself fell out of use in the absence of credible political alternatives. But with the outbreak of financial crisis and global recession in the twenty-first century, capitalism is once again up for discussion. The status quo can no longer be taken for granted.
As Eric Hobsbawm argues in his acute and elegant introduction to this modern edition, in such times The Communist Manifesto emerges as a work of great prescience and power despite being written over a century and a half ago. He highlights Marx and Engels’s enduring insights into the capitalist system: its devastating impact on all aspects of human existence; its susceptibility to enormous convulsions and crises; and its fundamental weakness
Capital – Karl Marx
Publisher description: One of the most notorious works of modern times, as well as one of the most influential, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis and create fresh insights. Arguing that capitalism would cause an ever-increasing division in wealth and welfare, he predicted its abolition and replacement by a system with common ownership of the means of production. Capital rapidly acquired readership among the leaders of social democratic parties, particularly in Russia in Germany, and ultimately throughout the world, to become a work described by Marx friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels as “the Bible of the working class.”
The German Ideology – Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
Publisher description: Nearly two years before his powerful Communist Manifesto, Marx (1818-1883) co-wrote The German Ideology in 1845 with friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels expounding a new political worldview, including positions on materialism, labor, production, alienation, the expansion of capitalism, class conflict, revolution, and eventually communism. They chart the course of “true” socialism based on Hegel’s dialectic, while criticizing the ideas of Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner and Ludwig Feuerbach. Marx expanded his criticism of the latter in his now famous Theses on Feuerbach, found after Marx’s death and published by Engels in 1888. Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, also found among the posthumous papers of Marx, is a fragment of an introduction to his main works. Combining these three works, this volume is essential for an understanding of Marxism.
The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 – Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
Publisher description: Communism as a political movement attained global importance after the Bolsheviks toppled the Russian Czar in 1917. After that time the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, especially the influential Communist Manifesto (1848), enjoyed an international audience. The world was to learn a new political vocabulary peppered with “socialism,” “capitalism,” “the working class,” “the bourgeoisie,” “labor theory of value,” “alienation,” “economic determinism,” “dialectical materialism,” and “historical materialism.” Marx’s economic analysis of history has been a powerful legacy, the effects of which continue to be felt world-wide.
Serving as the foundation for Marx’s indictment of capitalism is his extraordinary work titled Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, written in 1844 but published nearly a century later. Here Marx offers his theory of human nature and an analysis of emerging capitalism’s degenerative impact on man’s sense of self and his creative potential. What is man’s true nature? How did capitalism gain such a foothold on Western society? What is alienation and how does it threaten to undermine the proletariat?
These and other vital questions are addressed as the youthful Marx sets forth his first detailed assessment of the human condition.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
If you’d like to learn more about Marx, check out:
- this collection of beginner friendly resources on Marx
- this collection of quotes by Marx
- this reading from Marx and Engels’ ‘Communist Manifesto’
And if you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.