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9 biographies that go beyond Becoming

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Biographies that explore the lives and work of some of history's most revolutionary thinkers, from Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Marx, and John Berger to Leon Trotsky, Eleanor Marx and Frantz Fanon.
 

We have 50% off ALL our print books and 80% off ALL ebooks until January 1 as part of our end-of-year sale! See full details here, as well as further reading lists and our Gift GuideEnd of Year Highlights.

Rosa Luxemburg is one of the most controversial and important figures in the development of Marxism. In many respects her role is unique; she was at the same time one of the founders of modern communism and one of its severest critics. In this classic biography J.P. Nettl provides an extraordinary portrait of one of the leading twentieth century revolutionaries and political thinkers.

Now, more than ever before, Marx’s texts be read for what they truly are. In addition to providing a living picture of Marx the man, his life, and his family and friends—as well as his lifelong collaboration with Friedrich Engels—Sweden’s leading intellectual historian Sven-Eric Liedman, in this major new biography, shows what Karl Marx the thinker and researcher really wrote, demonstrating that this giant of the nineteenth century still exert a powerful attraction for the inhabitants of the twenty-first.

Yvonne Kapp’s biography was first published at the height of feminist organising in the 1970s. Kapp brilliantly succeeds in capturing Eleanor’s spirit, from a lively child opining on the world’s affairs, to the new woman, aspiring to the stage, earning her living as a free intellectual, and helping to lead England’s unskilled workers at the height of the new unionism. She was always more than, yet at the same time inescapably, Karl Marx’s daughter. It is also, inevitably, an unrivalled biography of the Marx household in Victorian London, of the Marx circle, and of Friedrich Engels, the family’s extraordinary mentor.

Published over the course of ten years, beginning in 1954, Deutscher’s magisterial three-volume biography turned back the tide of Stalin’s propaganda, and has since been praised by everyone from Tony Blair to Graham Greene. In this definitive work, now reissued in a single volume, Trotsky’s true stature emerges as the most heroic, and ultimately tragic, character of the Russian Revolution.

Drawing on first-hand, unpublished interviews and archival sources only recently made available, Joshua Sperling digs beneath the moments of controversy to reveal a figure of remarkable complexity and resilience. The portrait that emerges is of a cultural innovator as celebrated as he was often misunderstood, and a writer increasingly driven as much by what he loved as by what he opposed. A Writer of Our Time brings the many faces of John Berger together, repatriating one of our great minds to the intellectual dramas of his and our time.

Grand Hotel Abyss combines biography, philosophy, and storytelling to reveal how the Frankfurt thinkers gathered in hopes of understanding the politics of culture during the rise of fascism. Some of them, forced to escape the horrors of Nazi Germany, later found exile in the United States. Benjamin, with his last great work—the incomplete Arcades Project—in his suitcase, was arrested in Spain and committed suicide when threatened with deportation to Nazi-occupied France. On the other side of the Atlantic, Adorno failed in his bid to become a Hollywood screenwriter, denounced jazz, and even met Charlie Chaplin in Malibu.

A giant of the political left, Rosa Luxemburg is one of the foremost minds in the canon of revolutionary socialist thought. In this beautifully drawn work of graphic biography, writer and artist Kate Evans has opened up her subject’s intellectual world to a new audience, grounding Luxemburg’s ideas in the realities of an inspirational and deeply affecting life.

Dynamic and beloved American radical, labor leader, and socialist Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party to federal and state office across the United States by the 1920s. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for president from prison on the Socialist Party ticket, receiving over 1 million votes. Debs’s life is a story of labor battles in industrializing America, of a fighting socialist politics grown directly out of the Midwest heartland, and of a distinctly American vision of socialism.

David Macey’s eloquent life of Fanon provides a comprehensive account of a complex individual’s personal, intellectual and political development. It is also a richly detailed depiction of postwar French culture. Fanon is revealed as a flawed and passionate humanist deeply committed to eradicating colonialism. Now updated with new historical material, Frantz Fanon remains the definitive biography of a truly revolutionary thinker.

ALL our books are 50% off until January 1 as part of our end-of-year sale! See full details here, as well as our End of Year HighlightsTop 10 Books of the Year, and our best short reads.