Book review: ‘Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming’, by Andreas Malm.

When I bought this book I thought it was going to be a history of steam power in the textile industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I was looking forward to reading about cross‑compound engines, Corliss valve gear, centrifugal governors and indicator diagrams.

When I opened it I was surprised to discover that it is, in fact, a sequel to Karl Marx’s Capital. It attempts to weave (no pun intended) the idea of fossil fuel into the fabric of Marx’s theory of class struggle. It aims to show that capitalism and fossil energy are so intimately connected that they cannot be separated, from which it follows, according to the author, that only the overthrow of capitalism can avert climate change.

The book is full of words and phrases that only Marxists use, such as ‘structural crisis’, ‘surplus value’, ‘historical process’, ‘commodity fetishism’, ‘primitive accumulation’, ‘subsumption of labour’, ‘property relations’ and even ‘bourgeois property relations’. The author appears to have a checklist of ideas from Das Kap and to be ticking them off one by one.

I should have guessed from its title that it would be something like this, in which case I wouldn’t have bought it. If you are tempted to buy it for the same reason as I was you now know everything you need to know about it and I will forgive you if you don’t read any further.

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