Karl Marx
READING LIST

Karl Marx The Best 6 Books to Read

Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) was a German philosopher and economist whose influence on the politics and ideas of the centuries following him was (and remains) profound. Marx’s original writings and analyses led to the political philosophy of Marxism, which in the years since Marx’s death has developed into a number of different strands and interpretations.

Marx is perhaps best known for his sustained critique of capitalism and the concept of private property. Marx’s critique was based around the idea that, because the ruling classes (bourgeoisie) control the means of production, and the working classes (proletariat) must sell their time to service these means, class conflict is inevitable. As an alternative, Marx advocated for the common ownership of the means of production to establish a classless, communist society.

This reading list consists of the best books on and by Karl Marx, as well as the Marxist political philosophy that followed. After reading the books on this list, you’ll understand exactly who Marx was, what Marxism is, and why both remain so influential today.

1. Marx: A Very Short Introduction, by Peter Singer

Famed contemporary philosopher Peter Singer’s Marx: A Very Short Introduction is a fantastic place to start for anyone with a budding interest in Karl Marx or Marxism generally. Considering the sheer breadth and depth of Marx’s thinking, Singer does an admirable job in providing an illuminating overview of his life and most important ideas – including those on alienation, historical materialism, and his economic theory. Singer also provides helpful background to contextualize Marx’s work, and makes clear why his influence continues to be so enduring. Coming in at an accessible 152 pages, this is a very nice entry point to Marx.

Marx: A Very Short Introduction, by Peter Singer

2. Why Marx Was Right, by Terry Eagleton

In his accessible 2011 Why Marx Was Right, popular literary theorist Terry Eagleton takes common criticisms of Marxism and shows why they are often based on misconceptions of what Marxism actually is, and aims to demonstrate how Marxist critiques of capitalism are as alive and relevant today as ever before. This book thus doubles as an introductory clarification on exactly what Marxism entails, as well as a deeper discussion of its most common critiques. Eagleton writes engagingly with wit and intelligence, making this a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in learning more about Marx and Marxism.

Why Marx Was Right, by Terry Eagleton

3. Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion, by Gareth Stedman Jones

If you’re seeking to dive a little deeper with your Marx scholarship, consider Gareth Stedman Jones’s Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion, first published in 2016. In this philosophical biography, Stedman Jones brings to life the tumultuous times that shaped Marx as a thinker, providing a thorough, dispassionate, very well-researched analysis of his life and work. Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion gives the reader full understanding of how Marx used the influence of thinkers like Immanuel Kant, Hegel, and Feuerbach to fashion a political philosophy that left an unprecedented impact on the twentieth century. With its 768 pages packed full of insight, this book is a brilliant accompaniment for those seeking a deeper understanding of Marx’s life and work. (Special mention must also be made to Jonathon Sperber’s 2013 Marx biography, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, which also does a fantastic job in contextualizing and humanizing the life Marx led, though perhaps doesn’t go as deep in its analysis of Marx’s philosophical ideas).

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion, by Gareth Stedman Jones

4. Main Currents of Marxism, by Leszek Kolakowski

If you’re looking to understand not just Marx but all the subsequent strands of Marxist thought, look no further than renowned philosopher Leszek Kolakowski’s epic 1976 Main Currents of Marxism, consisting of three volumes that investigate the entire history of Marx and Marxism (‘The Founders’, ‘The Golden Age’, and ‘The Breakdown’). This brilliant book is rightly recognized as one of the most important scholarly works on Marxism ever written, analyzing its origins, structure, and posthumous development with nuance and precision. At 1,312 pages, this wonderfully-researched history of Marxism is a beast — but you won’t need another.

Main Currents of Marxism, by Leszek Kolakowski

5. The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Turning from introductions to primary texts, where better to start than with the book that cemented Marx’s name into human history? Published on the eve of the 1848 European revolutions, Marx and Engels’ short yet forceful The Communist Manifesto closes with the following infamous lines: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” This powerful work distills Marx and Engels’ economic principles, and whether you agree or disagree with their arguments, their passionate writing makes for an engaging, accessible read — and is essential for students of Marx and Marxism.

The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

6. Das Kapital, by Karl Marx

The more thorough, complex, and detailed blueprint for Marxist thinking, Das Kapital is Marx’s 1867 magnum opus. He builds out a sustained critique of capitalism and private property, and asserts his vision for a system of common ownership of the means of production — a communist society built around the maxim, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” One of the most important works of political philosophy in history, Das Kapital consists of multiple volumes. This particular edition covers the first volume, and belongs on the bookshelf of any aspiring Marx scholar.

Das Kapital, by Karl Marx

Further reading

Are there any other books you think should be on this list? Let us know via email or drop us a message on Twitter or Instagram.

In the meantime, why not explore more of our reading lists on the best philosophy books:

philosophy bookshop
READING LISTS

View All Reading Lists

Essential Philosophy Books by Subject

Philosophy Break

COMING SOON


COURSE & COMMUNITY

Philosophies for Living: the Ultimate Guide to Enriching Your Personal Philosophy

Find meaning, purpose, and become a better you by exploring 7 of the world’s most influential philosophies for living — including Stoicism, Buddhism, and Existentialism. Register your interest now:

Stay notified on when the course is ready and secure a launch discount.

★★★★★ (50+ reviews for our courses)

NEW!


6-DAY COURSE

NEW!

6-DAY COURSE

Your Myth-Busting Guide to Nietzsche & His 5 Greatest Ideas

Introduction to Nietzsche

Learn everything you need to know about Nietzsche in just six 30-minute daily chapters. This course distills his best and most misunderstood ideas, from God is dead to the Übermensch.

★★★★★ (12 reviews)

Learn More about Course
Introduction to Nietzsche

Latest Course Reviews:

★★★★★  Amazing

This course is amazing! You can agree or not with Nietzsche’s views, but the professionalism, the methodology, the clarity, and deepness of the investigation is really comprehensive. I totally advise philosophy fans to do this course.

VERIFIED BUYER

  Elsa V. on 6 December 2022

★★★★★  Very informative

Very good and informative. Written with easy and comprehensible language. Enjoyed throughout - every line of the course was a delight. Keep doing what you're doing!

VERIFIED BUYER

  Milad A. on 24 November 2022

★★★★★  Excellent

The course was interesting and challenging and exceeded my expectations. The content was excellent, stimulating, and well written. A lot of depth was shared on each topic. There is much to learn from this great thinker. Thank you for the opportunities.

VERIFIED BUYER

  Robert J. on 19 July 2022

See All Course Reviews

Life's Big Questions

Latest Course Reviews:

★★★★★  Endlessly fascinating

Awesome, endlessly fascinating course experience. The content was very interesting and easy to understand, and made me want to dive deeper into the topics. My favorite chapter was chapter 5: 'How should we approach life?'. It was so fascinating that after reading it I was reflecting for like 2 hours!

VERIFIED BUYER

  Alex K. on 18 December 2022

★★★★★  Very good starting point

Easy to understand, entertaining and thought-provoking and has given me some new approaches that I’ll continue to think about. The first and last chapters were my favorites. I find the question 'why is there anything at all?' is a mind blower. And the last chapter (especially about absurdity) relates to that. Thanks!

VERIFIED BUYER

  Mario H. on 26 November 2022

★★★★★  Wonderful introduction

Wonderful, clear, concise, and very informative. This is a great introductory course, exactly what I was looking for in general and enough depth to inspire further investigations. I also really enjoy the reading lists at the end of the chapters and have taken up a few suggestions. Thanks!

VERIFIED BUYER

  Matt J. on 16 September 2022

See All Course Reviews

Latest Breaks

Each philosophy break takes only a few minutes to read, and is crafted to expand your mind and spark your curiosity.

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, Rembrandt
Fear of Black Consciousness, by Lewis Gordon
Aristotle On Why Leisure Defines Us More than Work
Life is Hard, by Kieran Setiya

View All Breaks

START LEARNING

Discover exactly what philosophy is and how it can improve your life with just 1 email per day for 3 days

Philosophy Basics

What is philosophy? Why is it important? How can it improve your life? Discover the answers to all these questions and more with our free, 3-lesson introductory email course:

1 email per day for 3 days. Join 50,000+ thinkers. No spam. Unsubscribe any time.

Philosophy Basics