The Frock-Coated Communist: The Life and Times of the Original Champagne Socialist
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The Frock-Coated Communist: The Life and Times of the Original Champagne Socialist

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  121 ratings  ·  20 reviews
Friedrich Engels is one of the most attractive and contradictory figures of the nineteenth century. Born to a prosperous mercantile family in west Germany, he spent his career working in the Manchester cotton industry, riding to the Cheshire hounds, and enjoying the comfortable, middle-class life of a Victorian gentleman. Yet Engels was also the co-founder of international...more
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published January 1st 2010 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Steven Peterson
While I have read some of Engels' works and many of the Marx-Engels works and, of course, many of Marx' "solo" authored works, I had little information about Friedrich Engels the person. I did know that there was a tension between his role as a socialist thinker and his business role, making money off of the work of proletarians. Of course, the counterargument is that, as much as he was uncomfortable with this, it allowed him to financially support Marx's life work.

I found this a good biography...more
Originally published in Britain as "The Frock-Coated Communist," this recent and celebrated biography of Engels is worthy of a recommendation. This, despite the author's social-democratic politics (or rather worse than social-democratic; since its publication, he has been installed as an unappetizing Blairite Labour Member of Parliament).

Hunt succeeds in bringing to life the debates of the Young Hegelians; the Revolution of 1848; Engels's pious and conservative family, and his own frustrations i...more
Simon Wood

This is a fine, readable biography of Friedrich Engels in a similar vein to Francis Wheens "Karl Marx" but not such a virtuso performance. It more than competently covers Engels rich and varied life, anchoring it in the context of his times, as he journeys from his birth place in Germany to exile in London with more than a few points in between. The tone of the book is generally soun...more
Really, really well done. It is a challenge to reconstruct the atomosphere of mid nineteenth century England in which Engels and Marx thought and wrote. It is easy to describe events, but challenging to show us why their brilliant socialist tracts had such traction. Economic disparity alone can't explain it. I am rooting for the revival of socialist thought as we face the dire economics in America in 2009.
Titus Hjelm
I'm not enough of an expert to comment on the previous reviewer's dismay about Hunt's deficiencies in depicting 19th century Germany, but suffice it to say that whatever they are, they don't affect the central narrative enough to dismiss the whole book. In fact, most of the context of Engels's story is Victorian England, which clearly is the author's speciality. The narrative flows very nicely; the chronicle of Engels's life is coloured with contextual information and discussions of the 'support...more
Kris McCracken
I have a confession to make: I am an Engels Man.

Friedrich Engels used to be a name that was known throughout the world. Cities, towns and streets bore the name. Ships, railway engines and tanks. You don’t see so much of that these days…

It seems to me that – with this book – Hunt is seeking to recover Engels’s reputation from those who have portrayed him as responsible for Stalinist excesses and chosen him as the fall guy for the failures of Marxism. In this (at least halfway through the book),...more
I learned a lot about Friedrich Engels through this book. I had been unaware of his background as a scion of the mill industry, and I did not know the sacrifices he made on behalf of Karl Marx. The biography also did a good job of stressing Engels' clear humanitarian impulses and intellectual rigor.

Here's what the author had to say about Engels given the Soviet Union:

"Engels was highly skeptical of vanguard-led, top-down revolutions like those with which communist parties seized power in the twe...more
Mike Clinton
Tristram Hunt provides a rich biographical narrative that in a very real sense introduces us to a major historical figure obscured through generations behind an even larger historical figure - in part the result of Engels' own efforts to elevate Karl Marx's stature and legacy above his own. Engels comes across as the most likeable revolutionary socialist - or socialist of any ilk - that one would ever be liable to meet: a bon vivant, adventurer, profound thinker, loyal friend who led a complex (...more
Aug 17, 2009 Conrad marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
If that pest Karl Marx hadn't distracted Friedrich Engels from his studies with his interminable nagging for money, god only knows how different the 20th century would've turned out.

Engels managed to unite within himself a bitter loathing of the economic system that sustained him and a libertinage sadly lacking in Lenin, Marx, Mao, et al. He managed to identify and denounce the injustices of 19th century Europe with compassion that came from feeling that human existence is worth the effort of r...more
Roger Boyle
It seems a bit mean not give this 5 stars, but I seem to do that rather too often.

This was a very instructive book - I learned a lot about 19C philosophy and about Marx and Engels - Hunt brought them alive as men very well, warts and all.

Hunt is presumably a high quality academic political historian, but his presentation here was very accessible and instructive. Quite deliberately, he's a bit of an apologist and has an interesting epilogue in which he absolves FE of blame for the 20C mishandlin...more
Tony Schmitt
This was a well written and interesting biography. The author is clearly family with Marxism and is able to explain it clearly. And it seems that I have failed to give Engels the proper credit that he clearly deserves, and I shall have to make sure that I read more of his works. The thing I found odd about the book, was for all of the obvious admiration the author has for Engels, he seems to have quite the opposite feelings about Marx.
Steve Gillway
Great warts and all biography of the quintessential champagne socialist. I admit to getting a bit lost in all the intricacies of the dialectic and I realise that to Marxists slight nuances in interpretations are grounds for internecine warfare, yet this well researched and well argued book lays bare the personal, as well as philosophical, discrepancies between his life as a "Cotton lord" and that of a socialist agitator.
Nicely done biography of Friedrich Engels, the too-often-overlooked second half of Marx & Engels. If he lacked Marx's sheer intellectual power, Engels was nonetheless a keen thinker and the more practical half of the team...and certainly a fascinating character in his own right., and one with a sharper eye for the implications of Marxist theory for ordinary life. Very much worth reading.
An illuminating view of Victorian England (and late 19th century Europe) from the perspective of businessman/revolutionary Friedrich Engles. Hunt portrays Engles as neither hero nor villain, but as an energetic and intelligent ideologue and politician-- simultaneously capable of substantial self-sacrifice, viciousness, and hypocrisy.
Margaret Sankey
Interesting take on biography, placing Friedrich Engels in the context of Victorian British middle class activism and reform, framing him from the source of his life rather than the results, an approach which goes a long way to reconciling his glittering social life with being the international socialist.
CJ Underwood
An absolutely fascinating book full of sometime unexpected and entertaining insights into the life of the most stalwart yet contradictory communist in the history of the movement.
Interesting, but often a bit dry. The relationship between Engels and Marx was pretty interesting. But I never truly got a sense of who Engels was.
Rod White
Apr 06, 2010 Rod White is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Proving very interesting, even found that Engels has an Irish connection.
Clayton Brannon
Well researched excellent read.
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