Not that this relatively soft treatment of Marx’s anti-Semitism detracts from the overall achievement of the book. Sperber forces us to look anew at a man whose influence lives on. And he also offers a useful template for how we might approach other great figures, especially the great thinkers, of history — demystifying the words and deeds of those who too often are lazily deemed sacred. For all the books that have been written about America’s founding fathers, for example, we still await the historian who will do for them what Jonathan Sperber has done for Karl Marx.
Like the Smithsonian’s The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life portrays Marx for all his human faults. It would be nice if we’d stop treating the founding fathers of the United States as some kind of moral guides.