With history or politics, ignorance is often the precondition of certainty. The less someone comprehends the world’s complexity, the more certain they are of their anemic ideas. Our current economic shambles has created a depressing amount of such lightless bluster. Each action the increasingly impotent Obama administration takes, or fails to take, is met by Tea Party denunciations of “socialism’’ or “Marxism.’’ Absurd on their face, such condemnations betray an absence of historical, economic, or political knowledge. The president is nothing like a socialist. For some members of the right, though, raising the specter of Marx is a convenient, if simpleminded, way to wrap an opponent in the cloak of an enemy of all that is good and true and American.
Such is the cultural climate that awaits “Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution,’’ Mary Gabriel’s beautifully written account of the “bittersweet drama’’ of Marx’s family life. Like all good biographers, Gabriel manages to humanize a subject who most know only as an institution or, as she writes, “a massive head atop a granite plinth at Highgate Cemetery.’’ Marx was an economist and philosopher, a historian and sociologist, but as Gabriel deftly shows Marx was most consistently a self-obsessed freelancer. The particular attraction of “Love and Capital’’ resides in the book’s unsparing portrait of a brilliant man who would never claim responsibility for his own failures when he could easily fob them off on financial, familial, or political obstacles.