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The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism Paperback – Aug 23 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Second Edition edition (Aug. 23 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199836841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199836840
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 2.3 x 15.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #78,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


"The narrative delineates with admirable clarity the arcane details of the current financial crisis, while rehearsing the rise of capitalism as a historically specific 'process' plagued by fundamental dilemmas."--Publishers Weekly

"A lucid and penetrating account of how the power of capital shapes our world."--Andrew Gamble, Independent

"Elegant... entertainingly swashbuckling... Harvey's analysis is interesting not only for the breadth of his scholarship but his recognition of the system's strengths."--John Gapper, Financial Times

"Brisk and persuasive... Looking at the Unites States, it is hard to see anything as Benign as the New Deal coming out of the present situation. If it does, it will probably owe a good deal to David Harvey's students."--The Literary Review

"[T]he recent near-collapse of the global economic system has added new plausibility to Marxist analysis, and David Harvey is certainly its most elegant and persuasive spokesperson . . . Harvey's [The Enigma of Capital] reminds us of the fundamental instability of the capitalist system, despite its remarkable innovations."--Tikkun

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

David Harvey is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is among the top twenty most cited authors in the humanities and is the world's most cited academic geographer. His books include The Limits to Capital, Social Justice and the City, and The Condition of Postmodernity, among many others.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nic on April 10 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most accessible, lucid and informative books I have ever read. By far the most convincing analysis of the current economc crisis I have come across, but more than that, Harvey's ability to move across different 'moments' of the body politic and to weave an analysis of social evolution is unmatched. A very open and non dogmatic approach to Marxist historical materialism, which also adds a critical geographical analysis/component to that framework. Should appeal to people from a range of disciplines and to the expert and non expert alike.
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Format: Paperback
Harvey has a real gift for explaining dense economics in accessible language.

Using clear, concise, and riveting language, he explains and explores the most important (and dangerous) challenges of our time, namely the mechanisms of late capitalism.

I wish everyone interested in how the world and its power systems work, and anyone wondering how and why the great recession occurred, should read this book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Critical Theory on Dec 15 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a relatively accessible account of the crisis. Harvey brings to the contemporary crisis his unique methodological approach: "historical geographical" materialism. While his insistence on the importance of the spatial aspects of capital accumulation is to be recommended, some of his historical assumptions are questionable. David McNally's Global Slump is a good contrast.
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gordon Garrettt on March 27 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found there was an awful lot of information in the book. Dr Harvey really explored a lot of things that have gone on in the world and it fit in with the study I am doing on Western Civilization. I found particularily interesting his frequent referral to Karl Marx and the book Capital which was required for another course. Harvey explained Marx better than Marx, and I have to agree. When it came to his solutions for the world I found it more than a bit unrealistic; although I appreciate what has been done in China and east Asia I know that they had to vere off pure communisism in order to reach the success they are now achieving. Although he is a geographer, he does not discuss the potential in his own country or in Canada and feel his emphasis on the negative is overdone.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 32 reviews
60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant popularization of Marxist political economy Nov. 19 2010
By M. A. Krul - Published on
Format: Hardcover
David Harvey is probably both the best known and most prolific author on popular topics in Marxist economics today, and this is one of his best books so far. Working always from his perspective as an economic geographer, in "The Enigma of Capital" he uses the occasion of the current financial crisis to provide a lengthy and highly accessible popular overview of the theory of capital. He analyzes what capital is, where it came from, how it accumulates, how it relates to markets, what the role is of ground rent and localization in its movement (both metaphorical and real), and finally combines all this into a highly compelling political economic narrative. What is especially virtuous about this book, even compared with some of Harvey's excellent earlier works, is his ability to explain the general thrust of Marxist political economy in a manner that is easily understood by the wider newspaper-reading public and without using virtually any of the specific technical terminology of Marxism, as well as avoiding any of the explicit political content that is specific to Marxism (other than a very skeptical attitude towards capitalism as such). This is no mean feat given the complicated nature of capital and the different levels of analysis it seems to require to be fully understood. Harvey of course adds to the fairly traditional Marxist picture so narrated his own particular emphasis on place and space as essential mediating elements in capital's circulation, both economically and politically. I think this is a useful and important addition, in particular with an eye to the local impact of political economy becoming 'real' in this way - one need but look at Newcastle or Detroit and see what this means.

The book focuses on analyzing capitalism as it presents itself now - there is not much political commentary in terms of opposition to capitalism, except for some general comments at the end. This avoids, as too many Marxist economic books do, the question of realistic alternatives. It also does not pay particular attention to the 'prehistory' of capital. But both of these are very irrelevant objections, as the virtue of this book is not to be yet another rehash of things that have been done very well by others already. Its virtue is in integrating the analysis of space, crisis, and capital into a work for a general public that is hostile to Marxist terminology and skeptical about economists in general (both probably with good reason). For that reason alone, this book comes with warm recommendation - even more when combined with his other recent major works, "The Limits to Capital" (The Limits to Capital (New and updated edition)) which works at a more in-depth theoretical level, and his companion to Marx's Capital (A Companion to Marx's Capital).
84 of 93 people found the following review helpful
An Elegant Investigation Nov. 11 2010
By J. Edgar Mihelic - Published on
Format: Hardcover
David Harvey ably and rather succinctly runs down the structural problem with capitalism as we know it. He focuses on the different ways Capital has had to evolve to continue its "3% Compound Growth" year after year. The results in the real world aren't pretty, but as Harvey covers them in his book, they are elegantly done. I have read several books that have focused on the most recent crisis in the capitalistic system and Harvey's tome is one that covers the specifics fairly well but is at its best looking at the global structural problem that is not specific to a time and place.

I was particularly impressed with the final chapter, as anyone with such a cogent criticism must be able to imagine a better world. Harvey answers the eternal question "What is to be done?" with a pragmatic and undogmatic response that recognizes the variability that necessitate a multi-pronged approach to moving to a post-capitalistic world that looks to the future and not the past. I am still pessimistic about the short term future, but it is hard to have too much pessimism when there are talented individuals like David Harvey out in the world teaching and writing - I just hope more people start listening.
64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Smart, Entertaining Account of the Economic Crisis Oct. 5 2010
By Megan Morrissey - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"At times of crisis, the irrationality of capitalism becomes plain for all to see," Harvey writes at the beginning of the last chapter in The Enigma of Capital. He describes this irrationality with characteristic wisdom and analytic clarity. This book is an entertaining explanation of the current economic crisis and its significance in history. Harvey's forty-year career has been spent teaching and writing about Marx, but he is not so much a "Marxist" as a scholar of Marx; he analyzes capitalism using the tools and the perspectives that Marx provided, while also recognizing their limits and building on them in order to move forward the kind of rigorous critique of capitalism that is absolutely essential right now.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
dissatisfying to Marxists uncompelling to non-Marxists Feb. 22 2013
By Ian Delairre - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
David Harvey seems professorial and pedantic in his leisurely explanation of the various faults of capitalism. The argument of the book is basically a remix and rehash of his truly excellent "Limits of Capital" and his lectures on Marx's first volume of "Capital" but without the same academic rigor, citation, and desire for explication or elucidation. After the relatively informative first chapter we are left to take much at his word. As the work progresses Harvey deviates here and there into only peripherally related musings. For instance, an argument against Peak Oil, a haphazard account of Marx's conception of nature, and critique of Malthus appears in the chapter "Capital Goes to Work" which was supposed to explain how capital harnesses and coordinates labor. I was looking for a Marxist account of the financial collapse in 2008, a rigorous analysis of finance capital (the credit/banking system and its systemic weaknesses), and an overall picture of the contemporary economic situation in terms of political economy. In short, I wanted the 'enigma of capital' banished as promised. What I got was something akin to the moralizing rants of my Marxist sociology teacher in college: histrionic and poorly founded. But David Harvey doesn't even emerge as passionate and the performance is lacking. Perhaps this is meant to be a popular work, but I know that David Harvey is capable of much more. However, the question remains, if this is dissatisfying to me, someone favorable to Marxism, how can it hope be compelling to a hostile audience?
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
David Harvey on the 2007-8 crisis Aug. 13 2011
By Donald A. Planey - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I've read many of Harvey's works before. The man has written celebrated works on social philosophy, urban geography, international relations, literary criticism, history and heterodox economics. Virtually all of his past works have something interesting to say, and he occupies a well-earned place as one of the most cited scholars in the modern world. Depending on what field of knowledge or academic literature you're interested in, Harvey probably has one book in particular for you!

However, if you want to become acquainted with Harvey's Marxian work as a whole, this book is the best place to start. Basically, this book is a general introduction to the Marxian perspective on global economics, social change, political hegemony, and democracy by way of Harvey. Interestingly, there have been many attempts over the past decade to create such introductions, ranging from Chris Harman's Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx to Terry Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right the new edition of 'Marx's Capital': Fifth Edition by Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho, the Anti-capitalism a Marxist Introduction essay collection edited by Alfredo Saad-Filho, and the recent and excellent The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers by Michael Perelman. Overall, I'd say that "The Enigma of Capitalism" is tied with Perelman's recent book as the best of these introductions. So, by reading this book, you'll be giving yourself an excellent introduction to both Harvey and Marxist thought in general.

I'll avoid going into the details of this book, but here's how you could summarize the content: Harvey uses the recent financial crisis to illustrate the structural contradictions of capitalism, capitalism's negative cultural effects, the evolutionary nature of capitalism, the insurmountable (from within capitalism itself) social problems that capitalism thrusts upon humanity, and the way that Marxism provides a conceptual scheme to understand and confront these problems. If this sounds overly technical, fear not- it's probably my fault. Harvey himself does a great job of connecting his theoretical understanding of capitalism to the actual concrete social and cultural problems the modern world faces. In doing so, he demonstrates Marxism's superiority to orthodox economics' stodgy obsession with creating perfect mathematical models while ignoring the sociological and ecological effects capitalism has on both mother earth and the greater mass of humanity. Harvey's ability to present both theory and practical observations makes him much more lucid than most political commentators of this sort.

Some commentators are so steeped in the "practical" to the point where they can't see the ideological impetus behind ecological and social problems. Meanwhile, other commentators seem to conceive of society's ills as nothing more than some sort of theoretical inefficiency, without taking into account the economic causal factors behind social and ecological ills. Harvey's approach, and the Marxist approach when done right, shows that you can't describe concrete problems without using theory, and you can't develop a meaningful theory without careful analysis of concrete problems. This should be a highly recommended read for intellectually curious and socially conscious readers.