The best books about a Marxist’s conception of time, history, and politics

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by the relationship between the concept of time, history, and politics. My first publications were in the philosophy of history. I started by translating some Left Hegelians. Then I moved toward Kant and Benjamin. My research background was constituted by the attempt to liberate Marxism from any kind of teleological philosophy of history. Recently, I began digging into concrete historical cases to extract political and legal categories. I’m interested in the reactivation of past possibilities to reconfigure the present and open alternative futures. I am now fortunate to teach courses on Temporalities and History in the History of Consciousness Department at UCSC.

I wrote...

Book cover of Marx's Temporalities

What is my book about?

In Marx’s Temporalities I re-read Marx's work beyond any philosophy of history, providing a critical analysis of his political and theoretical development from his early writings to the elaboration of the critique of political economy and his final anthropological studies on non-individualistic and communist forms. The book provides an adequate historiographical paradigm for globalized capitalism. It considers the plurality of temporal layers that are combined and come into conflict in the violently synchronizing temporal dimension of capitalist modernity.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture

Massimiliano Tomba Why did I love this book?

I could have mentioned other books written by E.P. Thompson. Each of his books has influenced my work.

Customs and Tradition contains "Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism." This brilliant and elegantly written essay shows how capitalism, to impose itself, had to modify the experience of time. This change occurred through numerous conflicts with the traditions and customs of the working classes.

E.P. Thompson teaches us to consider the political importance and emancipatory potential of these struggles and not to leave "tradition" and its energy to the right.

E.P. Thompson taught me to look at these conflicts not just as forms of resistance, but as tensions between mutually incompatible legal systems. A useful corrective to Foucault.

By E. P. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Customs in Common as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Customs in Common is the remarkable sequel to E.P. Thompson's influential, landmark volume of social history, The Making of the English Working Class. The product of years of research and debate, Customs in Common describes the complex culture from which working class institutions emerged in England a panoply of traditions and customs that the new working class fought to preserve well into Victorian times.

In a text marked by both empathy and erudition, Thompson investigates the gradual disappearance of a range of cultural customs against the backdrop of the great upheavals of the eighteenth century. As villagers were subjected to…

Book cover of Workers and Capital

Massimiliano Tomba Why did I love this book?

This book is one of the texts that gave rise to Italian “operaismo.”

For me, as for many other Marx scholars, it is a fundamental text that teaches how to look at capitalist relations from the perspective of class struggle. This shift in perspective means looking at capital as a response to a conflict that forces it into constant restructuring, innovation, and reconfiguration.

The conflict also innervates workers' institutions, so that sometimes a refusal to participate in a strike can also be read and acted upon as a refusal to participate in the union's reformist and compromising politics. It is a way of reading social relations to free their political potential.

By Mario Tronti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Workers and Capital as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Workers and Capital is universally recognised as the most important work produced by operaismo, a current of political thought emerging in the 1960s that revolutionised the institutional and extra-parliamentary Left in Italy and beyond. In the decade after its first publication in 1966, the debates over Workers and Capital produced new methods of analysis and a new vocabulary for thousands of militants, helping to inform the new forms of workplace, youth and community struggles. Concepts like 'neocapitalism', 'class composition', 'mass-worker', 'the plan of capital', 'workers' inquiry' and 'co-research' became an established part of the Italian Left's political lexicon. Over five…

Book cover of A Philosophy of the Future

Massimiliano Tomba Why did I love this book?

This text, along with Walter Benjamin's On the Concept of History, introduces the notions of historical mutiversum and temporal strata.

Bloch develops these concepts to rethink the Marxist theory of history in relation to anticolonial struggles. He questions the idea of progress without abandoning it. Instead, he revisits progress from the perspective of complementary differentiations. This a crucial text for thinking about the plurality of times without falling into cultural relativism.

By Ernst Bloch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Philosophy of the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Excerpt from A Philosophy of the Future

It is always better to take your reader straight to the point and spare him a long preamble. This is particularly advisable when the book itself is offered as an introduction. If it takes a long time to get to the matter, the mind tends to refuse what is really needful. This work consists largely of material first delivered as lec tures. If the spoken word can still be heard (where it should be heard), well and good. It helps if you tell someone the way as well as point it out; yet…

Book cover of The Arcades Project

Massimiliano Tomba Why did I love this book?

There are numerous reasons why this text should be read. Personally, Benjamin's reflections on progress and history are crucial to a critique of capitalist modernity.

From a methodological perspective, this text allows the reader to enter Benjamin's laboratory and grasp the essential aspects of his groundbreaking methodology that merged cultural analysis, historical research, and philosophical reflection. Benjamin's unique approach combined elements of sociology, anthropology, and literary critique, creating a multidisciplinary work that defied conventional boundaries.

By Walter Benjamin, Howard Eiland (translator), Kevin McLaughlin (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Arcades Project as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"To great writers," Walter Benjamin once wrote, "finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they labor their entire lives." Conceived in Paris in 1927 and still in progress when Benjamin fled the Occupation in 1940, The Arcades Project (in German, Das Passagen-Werk) is a monumental ruin, meticulously constructed over the course of thirteen years--"the theater," as Benjamin called it, "of all my struggles and all my ideas."

Focusing on the arcades of nineteenth-century Paris-glass-roofed rows of shops that were early centers of consumerism--Benjamin presents a montage of quotations from, and reflections on, hundreds of published sources, arranging them…

Book cover of Marx for Our Times: Adventures and Misadventures Of a Critique

Massimiliano Tomba Why did I love this book?

The style of this book is clear, direct, and energetic.

Bensaid's book addresses the ideas of Karl Marx, demonstrating their continuing relevance in the contemporary world. It explores how Marx's theories can be applied to analyze and understand the complex dynamics of capitalist societies, making it a valuable resource for those seeking insights into our time's economic, social, and political issues.

By Daniel Bensaid, Gregory Elliott (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marx for Our Times as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The end of Soviet Socialism signalled to some observers that the ghost of Marx had finally been laid to rest. But history's refusal to grind to a halt and the global credit crisis that began in 2008 have rekindled interest in capitalism's most persistent critic.
Written during the mid-nineties, a period of Western complacency and neo-liberal reaction, Marx for Our Times is a critical reading of dialectical materialism as a method of resistance. Without denying the contradictory character of Marx's thought, and with a sensitivity to the plurality of theories it has inspired, Daniel Bensaid sets out to discover what…

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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…

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