From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on Marxism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on Marxism. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on Marxism in no particular order.
Understanding Marxism – Geoff Boucher
Publisher description: Marxism as an intellectual movement has been one of the most important and fertile contributions to twentieth-century thought. No social theory or political philosophy today can be taken seriously unless it enters a dialogue, not just with the legacy of Marx, but also with the innovations and questions that spring from the movement that his work sparked, Marxism. Marx provided a revolutionary set of ideas about freedom, politics and society. As social and political conditions changed and new intellectual challenges to Marx’s social philosophy arose, the Marxist theorists sought to update his social theory, rectify the sociological positions of historical materialism and respond to philosophical challenges with a Marxist reply. This book provides an accessible introduction to Marxism by explaining each of the key concepts of Marxist politics and social theory. The book is organized into three parts, which explore the successive waves of change within Marxist theory and places these in historical context, while the whole provides a clear and comprehensive account of Marxism as an intellectual system.
Main Currents of Marxism – Leszek Kolakowski
Publisher description: Leszek Kolakowski’s masterpiece, one of the twentieth century’s most important books―for the first time in a one-volume paperback.
Renowned philosopher Leszek Kolakowski was one of the first scholars to reveal both the shortcomings and the dangers posed by communist regimes. He now presents, for the first time in one paperback volume, his definitive Main Currents of Marxism: “A prophetic work,” according to the Library of Congress, that provides “the most lucid and comprehensive history of the origins, structure, and posthumous development of the system of thought that had the greatest impact on the 20th century.”
Marxism after Marx – David McLellan
Publisher description: This fourth edition is an updated version of what has become the classic account of Twentieth-century Marxism. It includes new bibliographical information and sections covering developments since the previous edition. This edition provides a comprehensive and reliable guide to one of the most influential bodies of thought of the Twentieth century.
Marx and Modernity: Key Readings and Commentary – Robert Antonio
Publisher description: In this illuminating and concise collection of readings, Karl Marx emerges as the first theorist to give a comprehensive social view of the birth and development of capitalist modernity that began with the Second Industrial Revolution and still exists today.
Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism – Bidet & Kouvelakis
Publisher description: The Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism is an international and interdisciplinary volume which aims to provide a thorough and precise panorama of recent developments in Marxist theory in the US, Europe, Asia and beyond. Drawing on the work of thirty of the most authoritative scholars, the Companion spans all the humanities and social sciences, with particular emphasis on philosophy. The work is divided into three parts: ‘General Trends’, which provides a broad intellectual and historical context; ‘Currents’, which tracks the trajectories of twenty specific currents or disciplinary fields; and ‘Figures’, which examines in detail the work of fifteen key actors of Marxist or para-Marxist theory (Adorno, Althusser, Badiou, Benjamin, Bhaskar, Bourdieu, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Gramsci, Habermas, Jameson, Lefebvre, Uno, Williams). The Companion is set to be unsurpassed for many years, in breadth and depth, as the definitive guide to contemporary Marxism. …
Selected Writings – Karl Marx
Publisher description: Featuring the most important and enduring works from Marx’s enormous corpus, this collection ranges from the Hegelian idealism of his youth to the mature socialism of his later works. Organized both topically and in rough chronological order, the selections (many of them in the translations of Loyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat) include writings on historical materialism, excerpts from Capital, and political works.
A Future for Marxism? – Andrew Levine
Publisher description: Not long ago, Marxist philosophy flourished. Yet in recent years theorists have turned away from Marxism. This book aims to revive Marxist theory, and show how it offers a rich foundation for radical socialist thinking in the forseeable future.To do this, Andrew Levine examines two recent departures in Marxist thought — Althusserian and Analytical Marxism. The former is currently defunct; the latter, very nearly so. He assesses the shortcomings of each, while emphasising their considerable, and still timely, merits. The discussion is framed against an analysis of socialism’s place in the political life of the past two centuries. Levine assesses the apparent historical defeat of the Left generally since the consolidation of the Reagan-Thatcher era and speculates on current signs of renewal. He argues that both Althusserian and analytical Marxism represent new and deeply important philosophical departures within the Marxist tradition as they force a rethinking of Marxism’s scientific and political project. For all their differences in style and substance, these strains of Marxist thought share important thematic and sociological features and Levine concludes that both traditions provide a legacy upon which a revived Left can build.
Reconstructing Marxism – Wright, Levine, & Sober
Publisher description: Reconstructing Marxism explores fundamental questions about the structure of Marxist theory and its prospects for the future. The authors maintain that the disintegration of the old theoretical unity of classical Marxism is in part responsible for what is commonly called the “crisis of Marxism.” Only a reconstructed Marxism can come to terms with this disintegration.
Addressing a range of problems in historical materialism and class analysis, the authors compare historical materialism with Darwinian evolutionary theory, and identify what is distinctively “historical” in Marx’s theory of history. Through an evaluation of G.A. Cohen’s defense and Anthony Giddens’s critique of historical materialism they suggest what a plausible, yet still Marxist, theory of history might be. They analyze the relationship of micro-analysis to macro theory and the assignment of causal primacy in explanations, and present a general assessment of the current state of Marxist theory and the prospects for its analytical reconstruction. …
From Marxism to Post-Marxism – Göran Therborn
Publisher description: In this pithy and panoramic work—both stimulating for the specialist and accessible to the general reader—one of the world’s leading social theorists, Göran Therborn, traces the trajectory of Marxism in the twentieth century and anticipates its legacy for radical thought in the twenty-first.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Sociological Marxism – University of Wisconsin
- Marx and Marxism – Oxford University
- Marx and Marxism – Rutgers University
- Marxist and Post-Marxist Philosophy – University of California, San Diego
- Marxism – California State University, Bakersfield
- Marx and Marxism – Lea Ypi
- What should I read as a good introduction to Marxism?
- How can one get a good introduction to Marxism?
- Easy to read introduction to Marxism?
- What’s the best book about the history and theories of Marxism since Marx and Engels?
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Political Philosophy
- The Best Books on or by Karl Marx
- The Best Philosophy Books on Socialism
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.