The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels
Metropolitan Books, Hardcover, 9780805080254, 448pp.
Publication Date: August 18, 2009
A remarkable new biography from one of Britain’s leading young historians that recovers the co-founder of communism from the shadows of historyFriedrich Engels is one of the most intriguing and contradictory figures of the nineteenth century. Born to a prosperous Prussian mercantile family, he spent his life working in the Manchester cotton industry, riding to the Cheshire hounds, and enjoying the comfortable upper-middle-class existence of a Victorian gentleman.
Yet Engels was also, with Karl Marx, the founder of international communism, which in the twentieth century came to govern one-third of the human race. He was the coauthor of The Communist Manifesto, a ruthless party tactician, and the man who sacrificed his best years so that Marx could write Das Kapital. His searing account of the Industrial Revolution, The Condition of the Working Class in England, remains one of the most haunting and brutal indictments of the human costs of capitalism. Far more than Marx’s indispensable aide, Engels was a profound thinker in his own right—on warfare, feminism, urbanism, Darwinism, technology, and colonialism. With fierce clarity, he predicted the social effects of today’s free-market fundamentalism and unstoppable globalization.
Drawing on a wealth of letters and archives, acclaimed historian Tristram Hunt plumbs Engels’s intellectual legacy and shows us how one of the great bon viveurs of Victorian Britain reconciled his exuberant personal life with his radical political philosophy. Set against the backdrop of revolutionary Europe and industrializing England—of Manchester mills, Paris barricades, and East End strikes—Marx’s General tells a story of devoted friendship, class compromise, ideological struggle, and family betrayal. And it tackles head-on the question of Engels’s influence: was Engels, after Marx’s death, responsible for some of the most devastating turns of twentieth-century history, or was the idealism of his thought distorted by those who claimed to be his followers?
An epic history and riveting biography, Marx’s General at last brings Engels out from the shadow of his famous friend and collaborator.
Tristram Hunt is a lecturer in history at the University of London. The author of Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City, he writes political and cultural commentary for The Guardian, The Times, and the London Review of Books, among other publications.
“Greatly enjoyable... A perceptive tour not just through Engels’s life but through philosophy and political thought in the nineteenth century.”—The New Yorker “Brilliant.”—The Economist “A vivid and thoughtful biography... Hunt artfully flushes out Engels’s human side.”—The New York Times
“Hunt is remarkably good at distilling an epoch and conveying a sense of place, and he perfectly judges the pace of his narrative, illustrating what he is saying without burdening the reader with detail best left in the archives.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A splendid biography… Hunt’s vivid prose captures Engels’s idealism, generosity and foibles. That is to say, it makes him recognizably human.”—The Plain Dealer “Written with brio, warmth, and historical understanding, this is more than the best biography of one of the most attractive inhabitants of Victorian England, Karl Marx’s friend, partner, and political heir. It is also one of the most accessible and persuasive studies of how the arguments of young philosophers in the 1840s grew into the movement that shook and changed the world in the twentieth century.”
—Eric Hobsbawm, author of The Age of Revolution and The Age of Extremes “Vivid and sharply observed… Tristram Hunt brings to the fore the extraordinary pressures which shaped Engels’s personality and made him a virtuoso of the double life. In this novel and refreshing account, Engels is at last freed from the condescension of posterity.”
—Gareth Stedman Jones, author of Outcast London “Does an excellent job of bringing Engels out from the shadow of the man he served so devotedly.”
—Alan Ryan, The Literary Review (UK) “A splendid, gripping biography… Tristram Hunt’s witty, humane and sharp-eyed portrait of Engels does justice to the complex chemistry of the relationship with Marx, but also sets the ‘junior partner’ at the centre of his own life and intellectual evolution.”
—Christopher Clark, Standpoint (UK) “Excellent… The partner who willingly played ‘second fiddle’ to capitalism’s Jeremiah receives his due.”
—Robert Service, The Sunday Times (UK)
Friedrich Engels wasn't born a revolutionary, but over the course of several beer-soaked days in Paris, he became part of "the greatest friendship in Western political thought." More at NPR.org
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