The best books for understanding Marx’s Capital and its relevance today

Why am I passionate about this?

27 years of teaching social and cultural theory to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of British Columbia have shaped the way I think about challenging works like Marx’s Capital. I’ve come to approach the classics of sociology not just as systematic scientific treatises, but also as literary works with a beginning, middle, and end, and as political projects designed to seize upon the power of words for practical purposes. 


I wrote...

Marx’s Wager: Das Kapital and Classical Sociology

By Thomas Kemple,

Book cover of Marx’s Wager: Das Kapital and Classical Sociology

What is my book about?

Marx's masterpiece Capital (Das Kapital) was ignored or misread as well as selectively and creatively interpreted by the generation of social scientists that came after him. Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel attempt to supplement what they call ‘historical materialism’ or to engage in debates about ‘socialism’ through their readings of The Communist Manifesto and occasional Capital. 

Despite their differences with Marx and with one another, they share his concern with how empirically detailed and scientifically valid knowledge of the social world may inform historical struggles for a more human world. This commitment can be called ‘Faustian,’ insofar as Marx and the classical sociologists hope to translate theory into practice while making a pact or wager with the diabolical social, political, and economic forces of the modern world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature

Thomas Kemple Why did I love this book?

This book rocked my theory-world when I finally settled down to read it, long after it was first published and everybody was talking about it. Besides developing Marx’s idea of the ‘metabolic rift’ in the social-natural metabolism, brought on by the industrial revolution, it also traces Marx’s inspiration in the soil sciences of his day, ancient materialist philosophies of nature, and the disregard or distortion of Marx’s ecology during the Soviet era and in the West.  

By John Bellamy Foster,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marx's Ecology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Progress requires the conquest of nature. Or does it? This new account overturns conventional interpretations of Marx and in the process outlines a more rational approach to the current environmental crisis. Marx, it is often assumed, cared only about industrial growth and the development of economic forces. John Bellamy Foster examines Marx's neglected writings on capitalist agriculture and soil ecology, philosophical naturalism, and evolutionary theory. He shows that Marx, known as a powerful critic of capitalist society, was also deeply concerned with the changing human relationship to nature. Marx's Ecology covers many other thinkers, including Epicurus, Charles Darwin, Thomas Malthus,…


Book cover of Marx's Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital

Thomas Kemple Why did I love this book?

This really engaging book shows how Capital, Volume 1 is implicitly modelled on Dante’s Inferno, from the way Marx stages the descent (katabasis) into the hell of the 19th-century factory to the division of the French and English translations into 33 chapters, mirroring the 33 cantos of Dante’s famous poem. Roberts almost makes you forget you’re reading political theory, an effect Marx was aiming for in trying to reach his socialist and working-class audiences.

By William Clare Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marx's Inferno as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marx's Inferno reconstructs the major arguments of Karl Marx's Capital and inaugurates a completely new reading of a seminal classic. Rather than simply a critique of classical political economy, William Roberts argues that Capital was primarily a careful engagement with the motives and aims of the workers' movement. Understood in this light, Capital emerges as a profound work of political theory. Placing Marx against the background of nineteenth-century socialism, Roberts shows how Capital was ingeniously modeled on Dante's Inferno, and how Marx, playing the role of Virgil for the proletariat, introduced partisans of workers' emancipation to the secret depths of…


Book cover of Marx's Capital Illustrated

Thomas Kemple Why did I love this book?

As an academic, I was at first skeptical about reading a comic version of Marx’s masterpiece, but Smith and Evans brilliantly manage to be both entertaining and enlightening, hilariously funny as well as dead serious. Even if you’re not familiar with any of the key concepts, you’ll get a lot out of the way they combine simple descriptions with the illustrations, and the updated edition really resonates with the financial crises we’ve experienced in the last couple of decades. 

By David Smith, Phil Evans (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Karl Marx did not write Das Kapital for the bookshelves of economists and philosophers. It is economics for working people, from their viewpoint and history. It is the classic masterpiece of revolutionary working-class politics. Here, David Smith and Phil Evans explode the myth of difficulty haunting Marx's Kapital.


Book cover of Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies

Thomas Kemple Why did I love this book?

Though not focusing specifically on Capital, Anderson’s book is groundbreaking for the way it brings Marx’s massive editorial writings into conversation with his economic ideas, especially around topics we’ve been grappling with in the last hundred years, such as racial conflicts in the US, Irish nationalism, Russian revolutionary movements, and the legacy of British imperialism in Asia. 

By Kevin B. Anderson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Marx at the Margins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Marx at the Margins, Kevin Anderson uncovers a variety of extensive but neglected texts by Marx that cast what we thought we knew about his work in a startlingly different light. Analyzing a variety of Marx's writings, including journalistic work written for the New York Tribune, Anderson presents us with a Marx quite at odds with conventional interpretations. Rather than providing us with an account of Marx as an exclusively class-based thinker, Anderson here offers a portrait of Marx for the twenty-first century: a global theorist whose social critique was sensitive to the varieties of human social and historical…


Book cover of Routledge Handbook of Marx's Capital: A Global History of Translation, Dissemination and Reception

Thomas Kemple Why did I love this book?

Even though this book only comes out in 2023, and the high price tag means that most of us will only be able to access it from libraries, this monumental collection will be the landmark study of the global reception and translation of Marx’s great book. The parts I’ve seen or heard about are riveting, since they make us think about what it means to read and how reading can change minds as well as worlds. 

By Marcello Musto (editor), Babak Amini (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Routledge Handbook of Marx's Capital as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marx's Capital has been the focus of widespread interest in the wake of the international financial crisis that erupted in 2008, as hundreds of leading daily and weekly papers throughout the world discussed the contemporary relevance of its pages. Many are again looking to an author who in the past was often wrongly associated with the Soviet Union, and who was too hastily dismissed after 1989. New or republished editions of Marx's work have become available almost everywhere. The literature dealing with Marx, which all but dried up twenty-five years ago, is showing signs of revival in many countries, and…


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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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