The best books on marxism

Many authors have picked their favorite books about marxism and why they recommend each book.

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Utopian Thought in the Western World

By Frank E. Manuel, Fritzie P. Manuel,

Book cover of Utopian Thought in the Western World

The Manuels give an exhaustive but very readable history of utopian thought from the Renaissance (Thomas More) to Marxism, with backward glances to ancient Judaic and Hellenic cultures. This book explains how and why utopias have been central to Western thought, showing how the utopias of one age seem dystopian in another age (or even their own), presented in wry prose that draws readers into the story.

Who am I?

When I was a teenager, I thought we could create a perfect world—or if not quite perfect, at least much, much better than the one we are currently destroying. Actually, I still think it’s possible, just a lot harder and a lot more dangerous than I originally thought. I’ve been interested in all the efforts to imagine and create utopias, which sometimes produce hells instead of heavens, ever since. I have evolved (I think it’s progress) from being a high school Maoist to something more mature while watching China’s attempts to improve the lives of its citizens with respect and sympathy.

I wrote...

Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

By Peter Zarrow,

Book cover of Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

What is my book about?

I wanted to do two things with this book. First, to show how utopian ideas were circulating globally by the late nineteenth century. And second, to show how they played out in China in widely different ideas about politics: not just the obvious anarchism and socialism, but in new ways of thinking about Confucianism and liberalism as well. Focusing on four thinkers, only one of whom wrote a full-fledged utopia, I argue that a “utopian impulse” was key to their political theories. 

Beautiful World, Where Are You

By Sally Rooney,

Book cover of Beautiful World, Where Are You

This is the most recent novel to make my list. As much as I relished Rooney’s earlier work, her latest is heftier, for it grapples with the genuine planetary and personal crises faced by her generation. Her characters don’t shy away from speaking openly about love, sex, and relationships—or the perverse economic system that is rapidly bringing humanity to its knees with consumer-driven smiles painted on its faces. Neither do her characters hold back from earnest discussions of Marxism. The latter note is getting wide play culturally, particularly with millennials, but mainstream media has rarely picked up on the reverberations underfoot. Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You? is not so reticent—and more rewarding for its brazen honesty about the personal and the political.

Who am I?

I read a lot of literary fiction. At the moment, I’m finishing To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara, which I’ve enjoyed and whose novel, A Little Life, was brilliant. My interest in thriller fiction is sparked by writers who bring their considerable literary talents to their trade. John LeCarré comes to mind. Writers who sacrifice depth of character or concern for place quickly lose my interest. Thankfully, there are many thriller writers who do a superb job of keeping my wandering nature in check. (A quick note: I also write dystopian fiction under my pen name James Jaros.)

I wrote...

Burn Down the Sky

By James Jaros,

Book cover of Burn Down the Sky

What is my book about?

When well-armed marauders roll in at dusk to brutally attack a fiercely defended compound of climate-crisis survivors, Jessie is unable to halt the slaughter—and she can do nothing to prevent the ruthless abduction of innocents, including her youngest child. Now, along with her outraged teenage daughter, Bliss, Jessie must set out on a journey across a blasted landscape—joining up with the desperate, the broken, the half-mad, on an impossible mission to storm the fortress of a dark and twisted religion and bring the children home. Though published ten years ago, the climate emergency has only heightened the book’s relevance and resonance.

A People's Guide to Capitalism

By Hadas Thier,

Book cover of A People's Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics

A People’s Guide is just a lively, accessible, and up-to-date guide to the basics of capitalism. Hadas Thier explains complex ideas in a simple and engaging way with excellent day-to-day examples. It’s economics for those who want to understand and dismantle the world of the 1%. And it’s written not from an academic but from an activist viewpoint.

Who am I?

Marxian Economics and its relevance to a better world and socialism has been my passion since I became an adult. My expertise in this subject, such as it is, has been sharpened by the study of Marx and Engels’ great works, but also by the efforts of so many others since; some of whom are included in my five best books. But above all, it is the knowledge that in this world of nearly 8 billion people, most do not have a happy and fulfilling life but face daily toil and struggle to live (and die). Humanity has the power and technology to do better; we just need to organise our social and governmental structures to achieve it.

I wrote...

The Long Depression: Marxism and the Global Crisis of Capitalism

By Michael Roberts,

Book cover of The Long Depression: Marxism and the Global Crisis of Capitalism

What is my book about?

Setting out from an unapologetic Marxist perspective, The Long Depression argues that the global economy remains in the throes of a depression. Making the case that the profitability of capital is too low, and the debt built up before the Great Recession too high, leading radical economist Michael Roberts persuasively presents his case that this depression will persist until the profitability of capital is restored through yet another slump.

The Communist Party of China and Marxism 1921-1985

By Laszlo Ladany,

Book cover of The Communist Party of China and Marxism 1921-1985

The author, a Jesuit priest from Hungary, spent years in China before moving to Hong Kong. He was the preeminent scholar on China in the 1970s-80s. Ladany poured over what the CCP said about itself to construct a marvellous “self-portrait” of the CCP, including insights about Hong Kong. His scholarship is awesome and there hasn’t been someone quite like him among scholars on China.

Who am I?

I am East-and-West. Born in British Hong Kong, studied in England, and worked for a US multinational in Beijing, I had a range of experiences that traversed Chinese and western cultures. Sucked into politics in Hong Kong prior to and post-1997, I had a ringside seat to colonial Hong Kong becoming a part of China. I too went from being a British citizen to a Chinese national. Along the way, I got interested in the environment and was appointed a minister in Hong Kong in 2012. I have always read a lot about the world and how things work or don’t work. I hope you like what I have enjoyed!

I wrote...

No Third Person: Rewriting the Hong Kong Story

By Christine Loh, Richard Cullen,

Book cover of No Third Person: Rewriting the Hong Kong Story

What is my book about?

British Hong Kong had a good story in the run-up to 1997. Its people worked hard and had an indomitable spirit. China had its own story about Hong Kong: after reunification, the city would prosper as never before due to China's wise and pragmatic "one country, two systems" policy. Hong Kong people and the world bought those stories.

But now it is clear that the British version of the Hong Kong story no longer holds while Hong Kong people are not so sure about themselves and their future seems less bright. The city and its people are stuck--they have no compelling narrative that joins the past and the future. This book is based on our thoughts of what a new Hong Kong story might be: a story about "us" and "you", the people who care about Hong Kong, not an impersonal "he/she/it" story--a story, moreover, to be worked out between Hong Kong and mainland China and no one else.

By Night in Chile

By Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews (translator),

Book cover of By Night in Chile

Im also a playwright, so I really admire a full story told in propulsive first-person monologue. This novella is a confession of Father Urrutia from his deathbed, beginning with the line I am dying now, but I still have many things to say.As he speaks, the priest untangles the twisted, uncomfortable agreements between artists and institutions in Chile under Pinochet. I often recommend this book for people who have not yet read Bolaño and might feel intimated by the length of his major works. 

Who am I?

Writer and essayist Agnes Borinsky called my debut novel The Seep, A swift shock of a novel that has shifted how I see our world.Here are five short, urgent novels that continue to live with me in the months and years after reading them. These are some of my most beloved books, all of which happen to be under 200 pages, which ache with the inner mystery of what is hidden, and what is revealed. These books are my teachers, each a precise masterclass in world building, suspense, and purposeful storytelling. Enjoy these ‘swift shocks!’

I wrote...

The Seep

By Chana Porter,

Book cover of The Seep

What is my book about?

A blend of searing social commentary and speculative fiction, Chana Porters fresh, pointed debut explores a strange new world in the wake of a benign alien invasion. A strange new elegy of love and loss, The Seep explores grief, alienation, and the ache of moving on. A 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Finalist for the Otherwise Award, Times of London Best Sci-Fi of 2021.

A unique alien invasion story that focuses on the human and the myriad ways we see and dont see our own world. Mesmerizing.” —Jeff VanderMeer

The Order of Forms

By Anna Kornbluh,

Book cover of The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space

Kornbluh’s book is an incredible revelation. It shows that psychoanalysis provides an insistence on a formal interpretation that allows it to have a privileged critical position relative to capitalism. By showing capitalism’s formal impasses, psychoanalysis provides the perfect supplement to a Marxist critique and opens up possibilities for envisioning a non-capitalist future. The book uses realist fiction as a way to envision the formal critique of capitalism and really makes one want to read the books under discussion. I have taught this book to students, and they love it more than any other I’ve ever used. 

Who am I?

I have spent a great deal of time exploring how psychoanalytic theory might be the basis for a critique of capitalism. I had always heard the Marxist analysis of capitalist society, but what interested me was how psychoanalytic theory might offer a different line of thought about how capitalism works. The impulse that drives people to accumulate beyond what is enough for them always confused me since I was a small child. It seems to me that psychoanalytic theory gives us the tools to understand this strange phenomenon that somehow appears completely normal to us. 

I wrote...

Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets

By Todd McGowan,

Book cover of Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets

What is my book about?

Despite creating vast inequalities and propping up reactionary world regimes, capitalism has many passionate defenders—but not because of what it withholds from some and gives to others. Capitalism dominates, Todd McGowan argues, because it mimics the structure of our desire while hiding the trauma that the system inflicts upon it. Capitalism traps us through an incomplete satisfaction that compels us after the new, the better, and the more.

Capitalism's parasitic relationship to our desires gives it the illusion of corresponding to our natural impulses, which is how capitalism's defenders characterize it. By understanding this psychic strategy, McGowan hopes to divest us of our addiction to capitalist enrichment and help us rediscover enjoyment as we actually experienced it.

The General Theory of Law and Marxism

By Evgeny Pashukanis,

Book cover of The General Theory of Law and Marxism

Considering the legal apparatus as part of the state, Pashukanis puts forward the “commodity-form” theory of law in order to conceptualize the apotheosis of law under and fundamental to capitalism. Following Lenin, and against the claims of many of his Soviet philosopher contemporaries, Pashukanis argues that the withering away of the state should also imply the withering away of law. In making this argument he also examines the construction of legal relations and the legal subject. Pashukanis’ analysis has been revisited and revived in critical legal studies giving rise to scholarly studies such as China Miéville’s Between Equal Rights—which is how I initially discovered it, being a fan of Miéville’s fiction!

Who am I?

One of my long-standing interests, as a political philosopher, has been to examine the deployment of state power and the state forms (what I call states of affairs) the capitalist mode of production takes in order to preserve its economic order. Since I completed my doctorate, which was on the articulation of settler-colonial power in relationship to remaining settler states, I have largely been invested in thinking politics: how dominant politics maintain the current order, how counter-hegemonic politics disrupt this order. 

I wrote...

Austerity Apparatus

By J. Moufawad-Paul,

Book cover of Austerity Apparatus

What is my book about?

An excavation of the ideology of austerity and its relationship to the mechanisms of capitalism, Austerity Apparatus is a philosophical excursus on a variety of concepts surrounding capitalist crisis, class struggle, and the capitalist state machine. Written as a series of interconnected meditations on the problem of austerity, Austerity Apparatus is a creative intervention designed to force reflectin on the ways in which contemporary capitalism conditions its subjects to accept its limits.

Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World

By Kumari Jayawardena,

Book cover of Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World

The Sri Lankan feminist Kumari Jayawardena produced this groundbreaking history in 1986 and it has never been out of print. It told me so many things I didn’t know, for example how Chairman Mao’s early radicalism was centred on women’s issues: a social system which so subjected women must be brought down; Marxism was a later add-on (but don’t tell the Chinese Communist Party, they don’t like to acknowledge this fact).

Who am I?

I have specialised in writing about radicals and non-conformists who seem to me to be the most interesting people in the world. I like books about people doing challenging things and making a difference. I love travelling to obscure archives in other countries and finding the riches of personal papers in dusty old rooms curated by eccentric archivists who greet me like an old friend.

I wrote...

Women and the Vote: A World History

By Jad Adams,

Book cover of Women and the Vote: A World History

What is my book about?

In 1893 women had the vote in only one nation, New Zealand. By the 1960s women had the vote in almost all countries and it was an indication of backwardness in the ones where they didn’t. In this book I trace the history of this revolution in world politics in relation to woman, not just in continents where the story is well known but in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In every place there were radical pioneers whose stories are told here, often for the first time in the West.

Nietzsche's Corps/e

By Geoff Waite,

Book cover of Nietzsche's Corps/e: Aesthetics, Politics, Prophecy, or, the Spectacular Technoculture of Everyday Life

Waite’s book is an often brilliant account of how Nietzsche (and Heidegger too) have duped the philosophical and cultural Left. The book is too long, and also often unwieldy and self-indulgent. Yet it contains many gems. Part of what I was trying to do in my book was to make some of Waite’s best insights accessible by writing a much shorter, more punchy book.

Who am I?

I’m a political theorist recently retired from the University of Toronto. Around fall 2014, I became aware that a hyper-energetic, well-educated intelligentsia was trying to move heaven and earth to make fascism intellectually respectable again. I resolved to educate myself about these scary characters. I was truly alarmed, and wrote my book to convey my alarm to fellow citizens who hadn’t yet woken up to the threat. Sure enough, within a couple of years, Richard Spencer rose to media stardom; and one of the first things that Trump did after being elected in November of 2016 was to decide that a crypto-fascist Steve Bannon was worthy of a senior position in the White House. 

I wrote...

Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right

By Ronald Beiner,

Book cover of Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right

What is my book about?

In Dangerous Minds, I trace the deepest philosophical roots of such right-wing ideologues as Richard Spencer, Aleksandr Dugin, and Steve Bannon to the writings of Nietzsche and Heidegger—and specifically to the aspects of their thought that express revulsion for the liberal-democratic view of life. Beiner contends that Nietzsche's hatred and critique of bourgeois, egalitarian societies has engendered new disciples on the populist right who threaten to overturn the modern liberal consensus. Heidegger thoroughly rejected the moral and political values that arose during the Enlightenment and came to power in the wake of the French Revolution. Understanding Heideggerian dissatisfaction with modernity, and how it functions as a philosophical magnet for those most profoundly alienated from the reigning liberal-democratic order, should give us insight into the return of the far right.


By Michael Newman,

Book cover of Socialism: A Very Short Introduction

This short book by a UK humanities professor represents a very brief sympathetic history of socialism written from the left perspective that currently dominates our academic mainstream. In a benign manner and downplaying the dark sides of socialism, Newman narrates the history of the socialist phenomenon from the 1820s “utopian socialism” and Marxism to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution (Stalinist terror has been totally skipped), and to the current eco-socialism and socialist feminism. The best and most informative parts of the book are chapters on Cuban communism and the so-called Swedish model of socialism. I recommend this brochure as a textbook to those who are either committed to the socialist creed or reluctant to critically approach this phenomenon.

Who am I?

Andrei Znamenski spent 35 years exploring religions, ideologies, and utopias. Formerly Associate Professor at Alabama State University, a resident scholar at the US Library of Congress, and then a visiting professor at Hokkaido University in Japan, he is currently Professor of History at the University of Memphis. Znamenski studied indigenous religions of Siberia and North America, including Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. At some point, he became intrigued with Western idealization and romanticization of non-Western cultures and spiritualities, the topic that he covered in his The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. His Socialism as a Secular Creed, which is a logical follow-up to that project, is an attempt to examine the socialist phenomenon as a political religion of the modern age.

I wrote...

Socialism as a Secular Creed: A Modern Global History

By Andrei Znamenski,

Book cover of Socialism as a Secular Creed: A Modern Global History

What is my book about?

Andrei Znamenski approaches socialism as a form of a modern political religion that arose out of activities of secularized apocalyptic sects, the Enlightenment tradition, and dislocations produced by the Industrial Revolution. He examines how, by the 1850s, Marx and Engels made the socialist creed “scientific” by linking it to “history laws” and inventing the proletariat—the “chosen people” that were to redeem the world from oppression. Focusing on the fractions between social democracy and communism, Znamenski explores why, historically, socialism became associated with social engineering and centralized planning. He explains the rise of the New Left in the 1960s and its role in fostering the cultural left that came to privilege race and identity over class. Exploring the global retreat of the left in the 1980s–1990s and the “great neoliberalism scare,” Znamenski also analyzes the subsequent renaissance of socialism in wake of the 2007–2008 crisis.

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