on February 5, 2010
I found this interesting because I've read Wells' most popular fiction novels and wanted to sample some of his social commentary, and because I've been collecting writings by famous futurists of the last century. Readers who are not similarly motivated may rate this book lower than I did. It's very different from his fiction, so if you liked "War of the Worlds" or "The Time Machine" or "The Shape of Things to Come" it doesn't necessarily follow that you will like this.
The author's attempt to predict the social and technological developments of the 20th century from the vantage point of 1901 can be entertaining for both its hits and misses. For example, in his chapter on armed conflict, he correctly envisions long-range, highly accurate sniper rifles wielded by expert marksmen, but incorrectly guesses that these marksmen will maneuver through battlefields on bicycles. Also, writing two years before the first Wright brothers flight, he estimates that the first practical airplane will be demonstrated around 1950. His description of an aerial dogfight between dirigibles and his disbelief in the viability of submarines seem quaint.
Wells was a product of 19th century England, so sometimes quaintness gives way to offensiveness from the perspective of the modern reader. Today, Wells would be considered racist and sexist. He also supported eugenics and euthanasia, including practices that have been widely discredited since the horrors of Nazism.
Wells was also a socialist who distrusted both monarchies and democracies, believing that the global society of 2000 should be a New Republic that constituted a world state (or close to it) dominated by three or four languages. It would be led by an elite cadre of scientists, engineers, and medical doctors - a technocracy, as we'd call it today.
Despite many inaccurate predictions, Wells did have some interesting insights on things like the growth of cities, the proliferation of labor-saving devices, the problems of the education system, and the evolution of journalism. For those who are comfortable with the writing style of the time (very long sentences and paragraphs; protracted sidebar discussions in lengthy footnotes), this is an intriguing historical sample of both social commentary and futurism.
on January 21, 2001
This book offers an interesting, although distanced, look at the technological progress of the 20th century - from the perspective of 1901.
H.G. Wells reflects some of the less attractive characteristics of a world we have grown beyond, but has a keen insight into social dynamics and the progress it directs.
Much of the book is not worth reading, but there are snippets of truth that point to major changes that our world economy and cultures are still going through. If you are willing to wade through the rough, there are some diamonds to be found.