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Socialism: A Very Short Introduction

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  860 ratings  ·  82 reviews
Today, most people think of socialism as an outdated ideology. In this Very Short Introduction, Michael Newman seeks to place the idea of socialism in a modern context for today's readers. He explains socialist ideas in the framework of its historical evolution, from the French Revolution to the present day, and examines practical attempts to implement socialism.

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Paperback, 162 pages
Published 2005 by Oxford University Press
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Socialism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #126), Michael Newman

Today, most people think of socialism as an outdated ideology. In this Very Short Introduction, Michael Newman seeks to place the idea of socialism in a modern context for today's readers. He explains socialist ideas in the framework of its historical evolution, from the French Revolution to the present day, and examines practical attempts to implement socialism.

Not just another history of socialist ideas, this
Socialism, by Michael Newman, is a book which is lucid and thoughtful, accessible yet undiluted and informative without being boring. It is extremely difficult to write a comprehensive book on a topic like Socialism that fits in the Very Short Introduction category, and the author has done an impressive job in achieving that feat. I am glad that I have read this book.

What I specially like about this book is its focus on some topics that are elaborated upon, well, not too frequently. After defini
C. Varn
Jul 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Newman's very short introduction has the problem that many of these introductions have in that they must cover very complicated and lengthy terrain in a 100 or so pages. Socialism is duly hard as it is both internally and externally contested as a term, has 200 years of emerging and failing models and critiques, and has probably become even more polarizing in opinions since this book was written. Newman's focus on traditions in the first chapter, case studies in the second, historical problems i ...more
Kaelan Ratcliffe ▪ كايِلان راتكِليف
Michael Newman does a decent job of summarising an immense topic here. I'll give kudos to where kudos should be given and say that he does his best to fit in all voices clammering to be heard from the left / far left since the 1800's onward. I personally have views similar to Anarchistic convictions and to hear some voice given to this history was a welcome surprise.

I will summarise briefly. Much of what I read in these pages helped me learn the difference between Social Democracy and Communism
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A concise yet surprisingly comprehensive and balanced summary of socialist ideas and movements. Everything from social reformism to anarchism is covered here (the latter a very welcome inclusion given the largely Stalinist and or Leninist sectarianism of many so-called socialist historians). Will certainly appeal to those looking for something infinitely more readable than the usual Althussian Marx-centric tracts that Verso likes to publish by the bucketload.
Jul 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm hooked! Thanks to a review by another Goodreads contributor, Hrishabh Chaudhary, I discovered the "A Very Short Introduction" series produced by Oxford University. With dozens of titles covering subjects from physics to Aristotle, scholars take on the challenge of making what could easily be off-putting issues covered in lengthy books into concise and readable short texts. Think of the project as one that appeals to those who might be attracted by the "Idiots" or "Dummies" series but don't w ...more
Lij Wynter
Dec 08, 2020 rated it liked it
TL;DR: Good book that gave the basics of the form of government. Made me yawn. A bit because of its profuse history lessons, not enough in the way of where the system was implemented and how in every case. But good enough for the purposes of this book. Longest review I've ever written.

Pros: gave a nice history of the movements in it's major forms.

provided economic* numbers to refer to albeit dated in the future, but from the time would have been a huge plus.

Explained things simply and succinct
Todd Wright
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it
A Very Short Summary - Socialism is a spectrum, no group has the authority to define its meaning, thus Socialism is fragmented. Socialism will likely fail due to prejudice.
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
The book begins with a discussion on both the theories and practices of different socialistic thoughts, although it concentrates on the two most dominant socialist doctrines, viz. communism and social democracy. Then it shows both pros and cons of these socialist traditions. Finally it ends with an optimistic tone for socialists, delivering the scopes where socialism can be still considered relevant and giving a brief suggestion on how to learn from the past, rectify the errors, and embrace the ...more
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Overly ambitious

I have read until half of the book (page 83). From this point on, the author tries to explain the socialism movement in the 20 century. I have found overly ambitious to extend so much in few pages.

So until page 83 I give 4 star. After that, I have not read everything and I have found too superficial.
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
More than a broad-sweeping introduction to socialism--although it does that exceptionally well too. ^_^

Although published in 2005, its final chapter 4 is still relevant to current events today and points toward an international socialist path for the creation of an egalitarian world based on the values of solidarity and cooperation.
David Anguiano
Aug 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
An absolutely essential introduction to socialism's core principals and historical milestones. Very simple to understand -- I couldn't put it down. ...more
Mark McKenny
Apr 24, 2015 rated it liked it
I think this book does all that it's meant to do. Give you a very short introduction to Socialism, and point you in the right direction of what/who to read next. A great little series of books. ...more
Caroline Tippett
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Concise history of socialism and its different components, helpful to have a background in capitalism and its history to supplement your understanding!
Nicholas Woode-Smith
A concise and relatively well-written introduction to socialist thought and history, that very strategically neglects criticising the philosophical and historical flaws in socialism.

This will appeal to converted socialists who don't want to interrogate their own ideas, but not for someone looking for something a bit more engaging.
Mollie Connelly-MacNeill
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This very insightful little book helped me understand the historical roots of and cases of socialism. While in some ways it was too short, this book gave me access to some complicated and exciting ideas.
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Basically, as an introduction, it's useful. But if you really want to know about Socialism and how its true tenets combat the problems that are caused by how it is usually hijacks by capitalism or other philosophies, then you really need more than this book. Plus, the book is just a bit drab in its writing. Just sayin'. :) ...more
Rachel Ruddick
May 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
My pet peeve with educational non fiction is if they feel like a few Wikipedia pages strung together. Even a short book about socialism is capable of saying something interesting about the subject. The author attempts no such thing and listlessly goes through the motions, describing its history, case studies, its factions then some thought on its future. I put it down with a shrug. Q
Jul 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics-history
Really it should be three and a half. A valuable reference but it lost a star because I found the writing a little too drab. I've decided I need a better grounding in the meaning of these terms we hear tossed about constantly by manipulative politicians and talking heads. Manipulators are using terms like "Marxist" and "Socialist" knowing that too many people really have NO clue as to what they really mean and simply accept the negative connotation implied. Hence when I come across something lik ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Newbie Socialists
Recommended to Remy by: DSA
This is a pretty decent introduction. It should probably be called "History of Socialism" though. I have a much better idea of the timelines involved now, with respect to pre-Marxist Utopianism, Soviet style Communism, Maoism, Third Way, etc. However, while the book outlines the main differences between approaches, it doesn't really get into what socialism actually entails. I don't really feel like I understand the actual concepts any more than I did before. Also, the book discusses Social Democ ...more
Jun 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is just what I hoped, a clear, interesting introduction, and I learned a lot. I kept my hand over the title when I was reading it in public so I wouldn't have to deal with people flipping out. It's an interesting subject, and I like how he presented all the pros and cons. I also like the quote at the end from Oscar Wilde, "A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at for it leaves out the one country where Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands ...more
E. Kahn
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Dull, meandering, very little on trade unionism, anarchism, cooperatives etc. and much too much on feminism, which deserves (and has) its own "Very Short Introduction" book. ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Does exactly what it says on the tin: a quick and succinct overview of the history of socialism and proposals for future progress.
Daniel Mendoza
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Frustratingly, a long review I wrote here was lost before posting - so I apologize for forgetting anything I may have included before.

Here goes round two:

I appreciate this text as a well-written, well-researched introduction to socialism that clearly describes the differences between social democracy and communism (briefly touching on other variations of socialism as well). I appreciate that, although the author openly advocates for socialism, there are meaningful criticisms of its excesses and
Colin Cox
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Michael Newman's entry in the A Very Short Introduction series on socialism begins by defining what he describes as the "essence" or "fundamental characteristic" of socialism: "In my view, the most fundamental characteristic of socialism is its commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society" (2). He offers additional context by suggesting that a principled socialist would not "defend the current inequalities of wealth and power" and that socialism aspires to "constructing an alternative eg ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
I decided to read this book because I had a friend who, out of nowhere, asked me if there was ever a "successful" communist or socialist country... To which I could not answer. Not because there isn't, but because I genuinely did not know!

I then actively sought out a book that thoroughly discusses socialism without sounding propagandist (as some of the books I found in the bookstore) and also without being too long. This led me to the Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press tha
Bill Johnston
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it
This book hasn't gotten a detailed enough review as yet, so after thinking it over for a couple of days I've decided to add one.

The author begins by defining socialism as a commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society. That surprised me. Personally I see socialism as a society maximizing entitlements (providing as many government goods, services, and protections as possible for little or no cost at point-of-use). I don't think of socialist states as being egalitarian; except for anarchis
Tyson Adams
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
How will we have anyone to look down upon if we all work together to make a better and fairer society?

The "A Very Short Introduction" series explores the topic of Socialism promising exactly what the title suggests. Michael Newman seeks to give an overview of socialism; the good, the bad, the misunderstood, and the misrepresented.

In my continued effort to dig into a few of the current bogeymen of cultural discourse, I went looking for an introductory text on socialism that wouldn't shy away from
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
An excellent introduction to Socialism world wide. Cuba and Sweden are shown as successful case studies, Cuba to a lesser extent. And the diversion from Socialism to Communism is covered. And, the reasons Socialism is failing pretty much everywhere today. What is needed for Socialism to be a viable government option, and clearly shows the conflict between Socialism and Capitalism and other movements such as Green and Feminism. Really thought provoking and helped me to see why the traditional for ...more
Jun 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Difficult to understand. I suppose that can be forgiven due to it being short but I didn't get much of a clearer picture of what socialism was. The bits about socialist "?philosophy" (for lack of a better term) seemed so theoretical I was unsure about how they would relate to real life policy and the pits about actual economic policies in sweden and cuba were also so overly precise im not sure what I really learned.

Maybe this book was hard to follow because socialism itself is very diverse and d
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Emeritus Professor of Politics and
Jean Monnet Professor of European Studies

His research interests have always been rather wide-ranging, including the study of the Left, political biography, and the European Union. More recently, he has moved into the area of peace and conflict.

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