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The Iron Heel 0th Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1619492288
ISBN-10: 1619492288
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

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About the Author

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Jack London (1876–1916) published an enormous number of stories and novels, including The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Martin Eden.


Jonathan Auerbach is a professor of English at the University of Maryland at College Park.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: London Press (October 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1619492288
  • ISBN-13: 978-1619492288
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter S. Bradley on December 28, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a terrifically fun novel for (a) science fiction fans or (b) history buffs or (c) Jack London afficianados. The story is a novel written by London in 1908 that describes the failed putsch by socialists during the period running from approximately the 1910s through 1930s as a memoir recovered by a future Socialist utopia hundreds of years in the future. This last conceit allows London to describe the repressive government - the "Iron Heel" or "Oligarchy" - that inevitably follows the Marxist laws of history until the really succesful Socialist revolution occurs in the year 2180, aka Year One of the "Brotherhood of Man." The novel follows Ernest Everhard, and his wife Avery, who is the putative author of the memoir, so this novel also has what may be a unique perspective of London writing in the first person as a woman character, as they try to establish a socialist revolution in a world that is in the death grip of Capitalism.

From a historical perspective, this book is fascinating in that it seems to offer a glimpse into the worldview of the Left prior to World War One. The novel has more than its fair share of polemical moments when London preaches the Socialist gospel through the mouth of Everhard. We learn, for example, that capitalism is doomed to failure as it invests its surplus wealth into the development of foreign markets, which in turn become competitors, leading to a crisis where no further investment is possible. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The rich, who control the governments, pass legislation eliminating the independent middle class and reducing the poor to a state of serfdom. The rich create a special janissary-class of poor, who serve as the police and the army, to oppress their fellow class members.
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The Iron Heel is a fictional history, a document of the future about the American socialist revolution against the Oligarchy and its counter-revolutionary forces, the Iron Heel. It seems to have been inspired by H.G. Wells and pieced together with American socialism of the West and its violent episodes, rather than the more urban East Coast tradition. I was raised partly in the Napa-Sonoma area as a teenager, so there was for me a sense of familiarity with the early setting of this tale in northern California.

But this tale of London's was in the end larger than fiction. In print by 1908, it was read by the young Bolshevik, Nicholai Bukharin, and woven into his analysis of imperialism and the expected transition to socialism during and after World War I and the Russian Revolution of October 1917. The Bolsheviks hardly needed inspiration from American socialism and they had their own experiences with Tsarist repression and civil war, but the concept of the Iron Heel stuck. And one thinks London's depiction of the proletariat as 'proles' may also have influenced George Orwell.
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Having read other Jack London pieces I thought I might add this to my literacy list. Pleasantly surprised to find it more interesting and entertaining than expected as well as still relevant in many ways and offering worthwhile perspectives and insights into the politics of our own age. It isn't a terribly challenging book and worth reading on at least a few points. If you like Jack London in general you might give it a go. The book being set in a geographic area I know well also shed light on what must be some of the foundations of current political and social thought in the San Francisco Bay area.
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London's novel of a socialist hero draws a brutal picture of the corporate-power relationship at the beginning of the 20th century. It is filled with wonderfully written oratory drawn, in part, from London's own socialist publications. However, as compelling as the story is, the true power of it comes from the context given by the 'footnotes' written in a dry, almost sardonic tone by the editor from centuries in the future. Through the eyes of this editor, you begin to see the smallness of the individuals in this revolution. It is a beautiful and chilling tale.
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"I was beginning to see through the appearances of the society in which I had always lived, and to find the frightful realities that were beneath." Avis Everhard

This book, considered to be one of the first modern dystopian novels, isn't one to read for its literary merits. I agree with others that it can be very heavy-handed and didactic. What it does do well is lay out London's political beliefs and the Marxist theory that underpins them in an accessible form. I was very surprised to discover that the book was written before WWI. London demonstrates extraordinary foresight when it comes to the competing economic forces that led to two world wars and which are today coming into sharp conflict once again. He sees with great clarity the way the labour movement has been corrupted and turned against the people it is supposed to represent. He knows how ruthlessly the oligarchy is capable of reacting when it is threatened and his descriptions of violence and repression are depressingly familiar. This book is more relevant today than ever.

When the workers unite internationally in opposition to war the ruling class's response is swift and brutal but they have a formidable foe in the organised working class movement. The oligarchy's strategy is "divide and conquer" and they do this by elevating a section of the working class and their representatives to a "labour aristocracy" while ramping up repression against the rest. The oligarchy is aided in its war on the working class by the fact that it controls the media and the judiciary, and this is clear when the socialist presses are shut down. It also has an army of mercenaries known as the "black hundreds" who are willing to do its dirty work whenever they are called upon.
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