Classics from the Verso Archive

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25 classic books from the vast Verso archive that no lefty should be without.

In this classic work which lucidly blends history, political theory, and historiography, Ellen Meiksins Wood asks how the dynamism of modern capitalism developed from the static and heirachical feudal system in Europe. A perfect introductory text by one of the most influential Marxists of the past few decades, The Origin of Capitalism shows that capitalism is not a natural and inevitable consequence of human nature, nor simply an extension of age-old practices of trade and commerce. Rather, it is a late and localized product of very specific historical conditions. Only by truely understanding the roots of the capitalist system, Wood argues, can we find an escape route out of it.

Adorno's work stands as one of the defining monuments of critical theory, yet his writing is notorious dense and difficult, and filled with references to the other thinkers. Luckily, we have you covered with Gillian Rose's classic introduction to his life and thought. The classic text on Adorno in English, as well as the starting point for Rose's own peerless philosophical work, The Melancholy Science is a must-own for any Theory Head.

Where does the idea of the postmodern come from? Who first conceived, and who developed it? How have its meanings changed? What purposes do they serve? These are the questions addressed in The Origins of Postmodernity. The answers take us from Lima to Angkor, to Paris and Munich, to China and the stars. At the center of the story is the figure of Fredric Jameson, theorist supreme of postmodernism. What happens to art, time, politics, in the age of the spectacle? What has ended, and what has begun?

Etienne Balibar is one of the twentieth century's most famous Marxist philosophers. A student of Althusser, his work on Spinoza, Marx's philosophy, the subject and citizenship has helped broaden and deepen Marxist thought for over 50 years. His short book on The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is where it all began.

As the book's original blurb says, "No-one and nothing, not even the Congress of a Communist Party, can abolish the dictatorship of the proletariat."

The master of world-systems theory provides a succinct anatomy of capitalism over the past five hundred years.

A classic work of feminist film theory, Annette Kuhn's Women's Pictures proposes that feminism and cinema, taken together, could provide the basis for new forms of expression, providing the opportunity for a truly feminist alternative cinema.

Anyone wanting an introduction to the life and work of Gramsci should look no further. Wonderfully written, Fiore's biography brilliant conjures up the world that Gramsci lived in. Essential.

Sivanandan, former director of the Institute of Race Relations, remains one of the most influential voices of the black british left. This collection of his essays includes some of his most enduring work, including an excoriating critique of the discourse on New Times, and writing on post-colonial development, and the Eurocentric assessment of imperialism.

This collection of original essays brilliantly interrogates the often ambivalent place of Africa in the imaginations, cultures and politics of its “New World” descendants. Combining literary analysis, history, biography, cultural studies, critical theory and politics, Imagining Home offers a fresh and creative approach to the history of Pan-Africanism and diasporic movements. 

How do changes in family form relate to changes in society as a whole? In a work which combines theoretical rigour with historical scope, Wally Seccombe provides a powerful study of the changing structure of families from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Responding to feminist critiques of ‘sex-blind’ historical materialism, Seccombe argues that family forms must be seen to be at the heart of modes of production. 

Drawing on a wealth of research, Sheila Rowbotham has written a groundbreaking history that shows how women created much of the fabric of modern life. These innovative dreamers raised questions that remain at the forefront of our twenty-first-century lives.

First published in 1930, Siegfried Kracauer’s work was greeted with great acclaim and soon attained the status of a classic. The object of his inquiry was the new class of salaried employees who populated the cities of Weimar Germany.

Spiritually homeless, divorced from all custom and tradition, these white-collar workers sought refuge in entertainment—or the “distraction industries,” as Kracauer put it—but, only three years later, were to flee into the arms of Adolf Hitler. Eschewing the instruments of traditional sociological scholarship, but without collapsing into mere journalistic reportage, Kracauer explores the contradictions of this caste. 

If only Verso still published guidebooks for armed insurgencies! 

This book was produced in 1928 as a practical insurrectionary manual for communists. It discusses the role of armed insurrection in the Marxist-Leninist theory of revolution, analyses a number of insurrections—both successful and unsuccessful—with the aim of determining the conditions for victory, and gives detailed information on the tactics of street fighting—ranging from the respective advantages of offensive or defensive action to the best method of building a barricade. Written in Moscow under Comintern auspices, it is a classic Third Period document.

Foregrounding the body, this remarkable collective work explores the sexualization of women’s bodies, charting the complex interplay of social, political and cultural forces which produce a normative “femininity.” 

Mechanic Accents is a widely acclaimed study of American popular fiction and working-class culture. Combining Marxist literary theory with American labor history, Michael Denning explores what happened when, in the nineteenth century, working people began to read cheap novels and the “fiction question” became a class question. In a new afterword, Denning locates his study within the context of current debates on class and cultural studies.

One of the first works that brought semiotics and psychoanalysis into the study of cinema, Wollen's early work broke new ground. A true classic which should be read by anyone interested in cinema.

Stuart Hall was one of the great public intellectuals the left has ever known. This collection invites a wide range of academics who have been influenced by Stuart Hall’s writing to contribute not a memoir or a eulogy but an engaged piece of social, cultural or historical analysis which continues and develops the field of thinking opened up by Hall. The topics covered include identity and hybridity, history and post-colonialism, pedagogy and cultural politics, space and place, globalization and economy, modernity and difference.

Surveying and synthesizing a vast range of previous scholarship, as well as engaging more particular studies of family life from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Coontz offers a highly original account of the shifting structure and function of American families. Her account challenges standard interpretations of the early hegemony of middle-class privacy and “affective individualism,” pointing to the rich tradition of alternative family behaviors among various ethnic and socioeconomic groups in America, and arguing that even middle-class families went through several transformations in the course of the nineteenth centure.

In the late eighteenth century, the political economist Adam Smith predicted an eventual equalization of power between the West and the territories it had conquered. In this magisterial new work, Giovanni Arrighi shows how China's extraordinary rise invites us to reassess radically the conventional reading of The Wealth of Nations. He examines how recent US attempts to create the first truly global empire were conceived to counter China's spectacular economic success Now America’s disastrous failure in Iraq has made the People’s Republic of China the true winner in the US War on Terror.

The book that created an entire academic industry, The Wages of Whiteness offers a groundbreaking exploration of the creation of white identity in America. Blending labour history, critical race studies and psychoanalysis, this book is one of great works of left history.

Stuart Hall's writings on the political impact of Margaret Thatcher have established him as the most prescient and insightful analyst of contemporary Conservatism.

A reflection on everyday existence in the 'sphere of consumption of late Capitalism', this work is Adorno's literary and philosophical masterpiece.

An intense and lively debate on literature and art between thinkers who became some of the great figures of twentieth-century philosophy and literature.

A revolutionary compilation of speeches which produced a political groundwork for many of the radical movements in the following decades.

With race and the police once more burning issues, this classic work from one of America’s giants of black radicalism has lost none of its prescience or power