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Marxism: Philosophy and Economics

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  967 ratings  ·  129 reviews
Sowell leads the listener through the Marxian scheme of ideas, shattering some existing interpretations of Marx which have developed through repetition rather than through scholarship. 6 cassettes.
Hardcover, 281 pages
Published March 1st 1985 by William Morrow & Company (first published January 1st 1985)
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Riku Sayuj
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r-r-rs, economics

A subtle paean to Engels. Paints a picture of Engels as the precursor, refiner and ultimately the author of most of what today bears Marx’s name. I exaggerate but it is only because this take amazes me. The book is a great intro to Marxism and takes special care to interpret Marx on his own terms and to stick to all his terminologies and conventions and thus resolve some of the apparent contradictions. This is definitely a work I will keep in mind during my soon-to-begin exploration of Marx’s wo
Lisa (Harmonybites)
You can't get away from the importance of Karl Marx to culture, history and politics. So I decided I'd read Marx's Das Kapital. I tried. It's impenetrable, turgid, truly painful reading. Mind you, I don't mean that in and of itself is a refutation of Marx's claims. Human Action, the magnum opus of Ludwig Von Mises, the economist arguably most revered by free market advocates, is easily as impenetrable and painful to read. Sometimes it's just the case that some subjects (such as the Theory of Rel ...more
Jan 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful and concise overview of Marxist thought. If you'd like to learn about Marxism, don't start with Das Kapital or Theories of Surplus Value, start here. ...more
Catharine Davenport
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Chapters one through nine - 3 stars
Last chapter - 5 stars.

Most of this book is Sowell explaining Marx’s doctrines, philosophy, and economic policies. I listened to instead of read the majority of this part, and I found it fairly difficult to follow. It read much more like a textbook than Sowell’s other books, and was pretty technical and detailed. This section is definitely easier to understand if you have some previous knowledge of communism and economics. I think part of my issue in following
Marxism: Philosophy and Economics, by Thomas Sowell, is a collection of essays breaking down Marx and Engels philosophic and economic principles and ideas. The book looks at dialectics, philosophic materialism, theories of history, capitalist economy theory, theories of economic crisis, Marxian value, political systems and revolution, and a short blurb on Marx himself and the legacy of Marx's political theory. Sowell's book looks closely at Engels as one of the main proponents of Marx's thought, ...more
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Sowell’s critique of Marxism is damning precisely because it is so scrupulously fair. He has no time for strawmen, which is why a good 80% of this book is dedicated to shooting down misinterpretations - willful or otherwise, well-meaning or otherwise - of what Marx and Engels actually wrote. Imagine helping your opponent up off the ground, straightening his tie, and glaring at anyone who is rude to him... right before you turn around, tip your hat, and knock him down yourself. That’s what Sowell ...more
Wick Welker
A mostly objective analysis.

I've never read Sowell and don't know much about him except he's billed as a conservative economist. Given that this book was written in the 1980s, conservative doesn't quite mean what it does in 21st century so I feel like his take would be very similar to a "liberal economist" of the same era. At any rate, I found 80% of this book to be an objective analysis of what Marxism entails: dialectical materialism, the fatal flaws of demand-supply capitalism, labor value th
Autumn Beck
Oct 12, 2021 rated it liked it
I learned much about Marxism and about Karl Marx and appreciated the layout of this book. In the end I’m left with 2 thoughts: 1) people who claim to hold to “Marxist” beliefs probably have no clue what they are saying they believe in and 2) Karl Marx was a dirty (literally) man. He was a leech. He was selfish. He was lost.

I’d only recommend this book of you wanted to learn about those that highly influenced Marx and what his original thoughts were (that led to a morphed version as we see today
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fair and objective writing by Sowell, a great place to start for anyone curious about Marx
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
UPDATE: Anything written by Dr. Thomas Sowell is worth multiple readings and Marxism: Philosophy and Economics is no exception. As a renown economist, professor, author, and commentator he presents in this book his analysis of some of the major writings of Marx and Engles on their theories of communism. He points out the deficiencies and the reasons it has failed wherever it has been tried. I wanted to review and remind myself of these principles since I see a growing number of (particularly the ...more
Jan 25, 2021 rated it liked it
There is something really odd with this book.

I love the fact that a conservative-libertarian scholar takes Marx ' thinking seriously and deals with it in-depth. If people who call themselves "Marxists" or "anti-Marxists" would actually read Marx, I think we'd live in a more enlightened age.

Sowell does an extremely deep and sobering analysis. He's able to express really complex aspects of Marx' thinking (e.g. dialectics) in very clear terms - highly valuable!

About 80% of the book is dedicated to
Noah Goats
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Sowell is a prominent conservative intellectual, but he puts ideology aside here and provides a clear eyed analysis of Marx’s work. I have a tough time staying awake through any discussion of economics, so the relative brevity of this book was very appealing. This book was written a few years before the collapse of Eastern European Communism, but Sowell could already see that Marxism, even with the Leninist modifications, was essentially already obsolete.
Nathan Albright
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2019
This book is a heady one, one of the earlier written books by the author, and one that seeks, through a close reading of the writings of Marx and Engels, to explain what Marx was really saying (sadly, not a straightforward task) as well as the contradictions within his own doctrine and practice, and the way that it greatly influenced the world.  The book was written during the Cold War, so the way that the book deals with the abstractions and flaws of Marxism is done in such a way that avoids th ...more
Feb 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was the first Sowell book I read and I read it without knowing anything about the man (Sowell) or his personal beliefs. It was interesting to read and constantly wonder what his true feelings about Marxism were. I can honestly say it wasn't until the end - chapters where he warned he would be more than objective - when I figured it out. I knew that was the mark of a great book on a complex and controversial subject.

This book is a good, solid introduction to the concepts of Marxism.
Leonard Janke
Jun 22, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Fairly presenting Marx's thinking is something that few can be trusted to do. The temptation to misrepresent either to demonize or glorify even if unwittingly is too strong for nearly all. Sowell, however, brings a rare combination of strengths to the task:

First of all in Sowell's early years he was a Marxist and, thus, he is familiar with how someone could look at Marx's work favorably. Secondly, Sowell's speciality is intellectual history and he insists on getting his information from primary
Josh Broccolo
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An interesting look at Marx and his ideas. Unfortunately his ideas have morphed in our modern day, but this book gives a good grasp on the foundation of his philosophies.
Jacob Cruzan
Aug 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Sowell provides an eloquent, intelligent, and wise analysis of Marxism. Not only did he cover the main points in Das Kapital, but also the history and life of Karl Marx. I highly recommend this book.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent review of Marx’s economic theory and its influences and development, with a particular focus on Hegel’s influence as well as that of the classical economists such as Smith, Ricardo, and others. Sowell is an excellent writer on economics, but this book is more academic than most of his work.

I’m very familiar with Marx’s work, having read CAPITAL, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE, as well as selections from various other works (one of my areas of specialization in
Ben Peyton
Feb 26, 2021 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. The first three-quarters of this book is hard to get through. Sowell goes in-depth into Marx's philosophy on knowledge, history, and political philosophy. That's all before you get to the sections on economics. From that point on it picks up some but I understand why Sowell needed to cover that ground at first.

Overall, I think Sowell does a fair job portraying Marx's ideas and philosophies. He is careful to point out that we can't confuse Marx's ideas and
Grig O'
Sep 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
The main body of the book is a very lucid and thorough exposition of Marxism, and I could find very little fault with it (for what that's worth) - it did a great job clarifying things such as Marx's dialectical method for me.

The penultimate chapter is a biography of Marx, and the tone starts to change - you can start to see where we're heading. The final chapter, the "critique" of Marxism, has very little to offer. Disappointingly sweeping statements and cold war-type arguments against existing
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I bought this book because I enjoy Dr. Sowell‘s writing style and I wanted a deeper dive into contrast between capitalism & Marxism without having to study Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto. I don’t have time for that.

If you think that you’ll be able to logically work your way through the labyrinth of Marxism from A to Z just by reading this book, you are mistaken. The mental gymnastics required to make any sense out of Hegel, Marx, and Engels limits the effectiveness of even the best econo
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it
An obviously well-researched book, although perhaps more scholarly than necessary (or maybe I've just been spoiled by Dr. Sowell's more accessible works). It starts with a detailed description of the philosophy that inspired Marxism, followed by the philosophy of Marxism. I wouldn't say this is a basic intro to the basics of Marxism, but a deeper analysis of philosophy behind the man.

The book is very even-handed and uncritical until the final two chapters, that's when Sowell's usual no nonsense
This is a great book. It's author is a master at unraveling difficult material, and Marx's own writings are quite convoluted and somewhat self-contradictory. "You can't refute a sneer." Sowell points out throughout the book how most Marxists don't understand (and almost never reference) the original writings of Marx (and Engels, who did a lot of the writing). He gives biographical, economic, philosophical, and sociological context to the writings and walks the reader through what Marx said and h ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Sowell was a young radical in the past, hence why he also had read Marx and Engel's works. In this volume, he explained the entire ideology behind Marxism (it is actually mostly "Engelism") and the life of this intelligentsia. Many of the popular misconceptions were dispelled, such as quotes attributed to Marx were actually from Fabian socialists and Marx's distinction of his ideas from socialism. Although generally nonsensical, Dr. Sowell has explained the writing in great details (over 100 ...more
Sydney Smith
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: post-graduation
3.5... Some parts were informative, and the criticism he had for Marx personally was well-founded. I especially enjoyed the little biographies of Marx & Engels toward the end. A lot of the early parts of the book were hard to understand and boring, but the nuggets of information (that were few & far between) were worth it, especially since it wasn't a very long book. Just started Capital in the 21st Century and it is much better at explaining similar topics so far ...more
Emily-alice Wolf
Sep 18, 2021 rated it liked it
A surprisingly thorough, detailed, and objective overview of Marx and Engel’s complete oeuvre in a brief 150 pages, let down by a final chapter where that objective eye gives way to the author’s deep seated neoliberal biases. A shame really because this was ironically otherwise an intellectual achievement.
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Sowell wrote this in the 80’s as even then this far reaching economic ideology, mired in various interpretations and live case studies around the world, was being appropriated and applied ad nauseum without proper context. He surveys the writings and biography of Marx himself, his isolation as a thinker, and the impact of his ideas and their popularizers. I can completely understand anyone seeking to make improvements in the systems that run their nations, but that anyone would think Marxism or ...more
Oct 14, 2022 rated it really liked it
I wonder if this book was a text book for a Sowell class. It’s dense and reads like it was. Sowell digs deep with loads of historical information around Marx and his associates. Their upbringing to the twists and turns of their entire lives. Sowell reserves the entire book except for the final chapter for Marxism history and origins as well as a deep look at its economics. He waits until the final chapter to provide his keen economic opinions and dissection of Marxism. I give Sowell credit for a ...more
Rebecca Case
Jan 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
I probably should have started out with a little bit of economic background as I found some of this difficult to understand. But an interesting book nonetheless.
Apr 07, 2022 rated it really liked it
As a beginner to Economics this was a little advanced for me, but still extremely interesting!
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Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social commentator, and author of dozens of books. He often writes from an economically laissez-faire perspective. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholars ...more

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“Despite the massive intellectual feat that Marx's Capital represents, the Marxian contribution to economics can be readily summarized as virtually zero. Professional economics as it exists today reflects no indication that Karl Marx ever existed. This neither denies nor denigrates Capital as an intellectual achievement, and perhaps in its way the culmination of classical economics. But the development of modern economics had simply ignored Marx. Even economists who are Marxists typically utilize a set of analytical tools to which Marx contributed nothing, and have recourse to Marx only for ideological, political, or historical purposes.

In professional economics, Capital was a detour into a blind alley, however historic it may be as the centerpiece of a worldwide political movement. What is said and done in its name is said and done largely by people who have never read through it, much less followed its labyrinthine reasoning from its arbitrary postulates to its empirically false conclusions. Instead, the massive volumes of Capital have become a quasi-magic touchstone—a source of assurance that somewhere and somehow a genius "proved" capitalism to be wrong and doomed, even if the specifics of this proof are unknown to those who take their certitude from it.”
“The Marxist constituency has remained as narrow as the conception behind it. The Communist Manifesto, written by two bright and articulate young men without responsibility even for their own livelihoods—much less for the social consequences of their vision—has had a special appeal for successive generations of the same kinds of people. The offspring of privilege have dominated the leadership of Marxist movements from the days of Marx and Engels through Lenin, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and their lesser counterparts around the world and down through history. The sheer reiteration of the "working class" theme in Marxism has drowned out this plain fact.” 2 likes
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