The first of a three-part series, historian Bettany Hughes examines the lives of three men who helped shape the world today. The opening episode looks at the life of Karl Marx, with latest episode cover Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.
Hughes begins by looking at Marx’s early life in Trier, Prussia, a life that is perhaps surprisingly bourgeois for the man who would later co-write The Communist Manifesto, then his rivalry with aristocratic students lead him to be transferred to Berlin where he became influenced by Hagel. After this there was his journalistic career in Paris, and later moves to Brussels and finally London, where even in the 19th century finding a place to life was ruinously expensive.
The programme not just with his ideas and how he set them out, but with the many problems he has during his lifetime. For example, the fact that Capital (or Das Kapital if you insist) didn’t have the impact he was hoping for, something that Hughes claims is probably to do with the fact the book is so big. There was also his medical complains, which Marx described as a “boils”, but which one modern doctor Hughes interviews diagnoses as being a form of hidradenitis.
Now, it must be said that I already knew a bit about Marx before this documentary aired, so I had basic background knowledge of the man and most of it was covered in this show. The main area of interested therefore was hearing Hughes’s opinions on Marx. She deliberately does not take sides over most of the programme, and appears to balance out the views of those who support his ideas with some elements that might seem controversial given what we know of Marx, such as him once contemplating going into the stock market.
Genius of the Modern World thus seems to be a programme for people what to get a good starting position on what Marx was like as a person and his basic philosophy – one which Hughes points out was the view held by a third of the globe 70 years after his death. It is a useful way of getting people to learn more about the man in greater detail, whether you happen to agree with his ideas or not.
Genius of the Modern World is on the BBC iPlayer, with new episodes out at 21.00 on Thursday nights.