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on February 20, 2016
While it is always enjoyable to view humanity from a different perspective, whether through dystopic novels or texts that deal with philosophy or theoretical physics, this book was somewhat less than what I had hoped for. It is basically an instructional manual on the merits of socialism/communism that is lightly veiled as being a futuristic novel. The author's writing style is highly pedantic and authoritarian and, while he has humanity's best intentions before him, he left this reader less than impressed and rather bored through most of his stilted presentation.

The idyllic view that he has of the world is one where there is total equality and on-going happiness amongst all men. All areas of monetary reward, gender biases, national armed forces, educational opportunities, religious interests, etc... have all been resolved and equalized for the benefit of all. There is very little information on how the US was able to create such an arena of bliss without massive internal resistance nor is there any regret on the citizenry's part for what was lost during or after the transition. Instead, the author sees such a transition as being quite natural and accepting by all persons involved. By viewing it in this manner Mr. Bellamy negates a number of evolutionary traits that mankind has developed throughout the ages regardless of how distasteful they may seem to any of us. Darwin clearly defined areas such as survival of the fittest, defensive anger, paternalism, boundary protection and competitive pursuits as being traits that allowed the species to regenerate itself through the successful leaving of viable offspring. And, while I agree that most of these traits are non-harmonious and that they do cause personal stress, they did lead to the successful continuation of the species. By doing so, they remain as innate traits within all of us. A simple change in social rules will not eliminate nor simply subdue these assertive instincts.

Maybe on some other planet that is inhabited by another species other than homo sapiens can such a utopian vision exist. But not on planet earth and not with what mankind has, to this point, evolved into. The people would never allow such a massive change to occur and, even if they did, where would they find a totally selfless and altruistic leader to oversee such a society? Wouldn't the leaders themselves live out the credo that...."Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."? The most we as a society can strive for is either be a more highly regulated form of capitalism that has a greater system of checks and balances than presently exists or a severely modified and individualized form of socialism that does not take away the unique ego structure that is present within each of us.

Lastly, the underlying story itself is about as thrilling a read as perusing the local telephone book..............
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on December 19, 2014
I enjoy reading stories of time travel. This book is one of the most mind stretching I have come across since it has the main character going forward in time and the author dreaming of a world 100 years in the future.

The writing is from the 1800 s and so has to be read and thought about. It is a true story of what the world was like in the late 1800 s from the point of view of someone living then. He has a vision of utopia in the year 2000 that we can hold and compare to where we actually developed. I am not sure that I would like living in his world. But then again, I am not happy with all I see in the modern world.

This is not a book to be read in one sitting but should be savored in small chunks rather than devoured. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to experience this classic book.
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on September 2, 2014
A man falls into a deep trance in 1887 inside a vault under his house. The house burns down, but he is unhurt. No one realizes that he is hidden inside the vault, so he lies there in a state of suspended animation for 113 years, at which point he is discovered and reanimated. What he finds is that society has evolved into one where everyone's prime interest is the good of the community. As a result, everyone is equally well off and greed and lust have been eliminated because they are no longer necessary.

Most of the book involves long discussions between the young man, Julian West, and the person in whose house he was awakened, Dr. Leete, regarding the social and economic conditions at the end of the 19th century and how they evolved into what West found to be the case at the end of the 20th century. These discussions are interesting, but can become tedious at times. Basically, a system in which only a few benefitted, at the expense of the majority (1887), evolved into a system where everyone benefitted equally (2000). In the evolution to the late 20th century organization, everyone was much better off than even the fortunate few had been a century earlier. Something like that.

The book does a good job, I think, in describing the evils of the capitalist system and how, without proper controls, it works for the few by oppressing the majority. The proposed evolved system where all benefit equally sounds nice, but I'm not sure that I believe it would be so easy to eliminate personal greed and acquisitiveness without some serious controls as well. Bellamy didn't seem to think this necessary. Once everyone was equally well off, the seeds sin disappeared, so to speak, and all was hunky dory, or something like that. My understanding of human nature, however, is that the people at the top get at least as much enjoyment out of life by wielding power over those below them, including an enjoyment of the pain their power inflicts on those below them. Kinda like the kid who gets his jollies by pulling the wings and legs off live bugs.

Some will dismiss this as socialist clap trap. In some ways it is that, but in the U.S. anyway, most people who oppose socialism don't understand the concept. There is no requirement that a socialist system necessarily devolves into Stalinism or Maoism. Similarly, there is no assurance that a capitalist system will somehow magically <em>not</em> devolve into a system where in the owner class (i.e. the one percenters) will totally disdain the workers to the point of poisoning and starving them with impunity, as was the case in the late 19th century, and as is becoming the case again in early 21st century America. Interestingly, it seems to me that between the 1930s and 1960s, or so, American society was evolving into one where the common good became generally more important. Sadly, we are reverting back to the model of the 1880s, and most people are relatively less well off than their predecessors were 40 or 50 years ago. We have far to go before we achieve the utopia described in <cite>Looking Backward</cite>, and won't achieve it any time soon without finding ways to reign in the brutish and malign behavior of the capitalists and financiers.
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on August 2, 2015
(Read in 2014) When we read stories about the predicted future, we need to take into context the time the author is writing. When we are living in that future, it's easy to criticize because we have the benefit of history and present tense. We are also used to our future tales involving Sci-Fi, flying machines, fancy technology.

Looking Backward provides such a conundrum. Author Edward Bellamy deserves credit for developing his version of an Utopian society in such detail, thinking out every facet. He is writing in 1887. The premise is Julian West falls asleep in a bed chamber that is below his house in Boston. He suffers from insomnia, so has a doctor who puts him into hypnotic states to help Julian fall asleep. It is May 30, 1887. He wakes up in the year 2000 in Boston, when the chamber is exscavated. At the time of his sleep, West - and Bellamy - are wealthy, and grappling with how to deal with the issues being raised by the laborers, who are advocating for better wages and working conditions.

Dr. Leete, his wife, and beautiful daughter, Edith (the same name of Julian's fiance in 1887), now occupy the property.

What transpires is a long conversation as Dr. Leete tells Julian the new world that is Boston, the United States, always referred to as the "nation," and world. Everybody is equal. No divisions of wealth. Men are positioned to work in areas that take advantage of their talents. No one works past age 45. Means of distribution are so organized that the exact amount that is needed for each person is known, so in the case of food, there is no hunger. The nation controls production and distribution. There is no cash, but a credit card system, but not like our credit cards. A certain amount is deducted at purchase. There is no want, so no competition and no poverty. Private business, large and small, does not exist. People rarely prepare meals at home, instead eating in the only dining hall in the ward they live. Women have been freed from housework. However, they work in fields that “aren't strenuous for them,” and elect their own leaders. While the primary elected woman can serve in a cabinet of the President of the nation, it wasn't clear whether the woman could be President. There is no mention of African Americans’ participation in the new society.

While occasionally Julian sees the Boston outside the house with the Leetes, most of the dialog is a conversation between Julian and Dr. Leete, which makes the book lack excitement and action. The other challenge for the reader is it is written in 1887 formal language, with some words we're not familiar with, and using too many words to say something. Even though it is the year 2000, Dr. Leete is afflicted with the same problem, though I guess Bellamy couldn't help that.

The hints at future technology is a device that plays music, your favorite tunes, and can wake you up with music, which they call a telephone. Radio? Alarm clock radio? Ipod? There are mechanisms to transmit information about how much of a product is needed. Computers? Internet? However, no technology dealing with the visual.

This is a "perfect" Utopian society. Many aspects might seem great: a world at peace is something we wish for, and for every body to have enough food. The maddening thing about Looking Backward is it's too perfect to believe. As our current lingo would say, "everybody's all in."

To Bellamy's credit, Julian asks all the right questions. To his discredit, are the answers. One of the first questions is there must have been some conflict or war preceding the establishment of this new world. Paraphrasing, "No," Dr. Leete says, "everybody realized it was the right thing to do." For me, this hangs over the book. Every time Julian asks a question that some change must have caused conflict, the answer is always that's not the case; that didn't happen. When Dr. Leete criticizes how things were done in Julian's time, a period he didn't live in, and how it confounds people of today, it comes across as arrogant. Much of the analysis of the 19th century, though, seemed accurate - and for the actual 20th and 21st centuries.

That in itself, makes it hard to believe that one day everybody woke up, liked everybody else, agreed to share food, wealth, the rich gave up their businesses and money. In a post script, Bellamy says the beginning of the transformation was 50 years hence, which would have been 1938. We now know that was right before World II, but Hitler was entrenched in power in Germany.

All political change involves struggle, non-violent or violent. In the 20th century, we saw the rise and fall of Communism and Nazism; two World Wars to end all wars; the Holocaust and more. A hundred years after the Civil War, African-Americans were still marching for civil rights and whites didn’t change their attitude, and say, “sure, that’s great.” Fire hoses were used on African American protesters, and a governor blocked the entrance to a University. Eventually, change happened.

The ending of the book was a bit unexpected, but I don’t want to spoil it. One question Julian struggles with is, “Can I be part of a society I didn’t help to create?”

In the post script, Bellamy tried to address the “rapidity” of the transformation:
“Looking Backward...is intended, in all seriousness, as a forecast, in accordance with the principles of evolution, of the next stage in the industrial and social development of humanity, especially in this country; and no part of it is believed by the author to be better supported by the indications of probability than the implied prediction that the dawn of the new era is already near at hand, and that the full day will swiftly follow.”

In 2014, we need to remember that Bellamy was not going to live to see 2000, and though we criticize aspects of his forecast, we shouldn’t stop our contributions to making a better world.
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on February 5, 2016
I was expecting this to be a Jules Vern style fanciful look into the possible future about new technology. I was disappointed to find out that it was just a bunch of socialist/communist propaganda. The writer had the skill to keep me interested in the parts of a novel that excite readers. For instance, the budding love affair between the protagonist and the young lady was well written and enjoyable. Beware though of the long, drawn-out and frankly boring portions of the book describing how the socialist mechanism can be described in nearly every facet of life. (except of course for the parts that would include personal freedom). I will not attempt to refute the claims that the book holds. Each reader can figure that out for themselves. I just want people to know what they are getting into. It is not a fun book to read, unless you are Karl Marx.
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on September 26, 2016
Not an especially great novel, but the author wasn't trying to write a great novel. It is an amazing historical document and one man's vision of the future dressed up in the guise of a novel. (Read the novel and this will make sense.) Despite some of the weaknesses of plot and execution, this is an amazing study. Many socialists, communists, utopianists, etc., have theories regarding how to improve the world and make the future better, but very few have done what Bellamy does here. He gives an extremely detailed and precise plan for how his world and economic system might really work. It's one thing to debate the merits of our system of rampant capitalism, it's another thing entirely to lay out a fully formed alternative to that system. This is what Bellamy does. His systematic explanation of his future civilization is rich, detailed, and extraordinarily well-thought out.

I honestly don't agree with much of what he says, but that's not the point. Bellamy was concerned with both how to improve our economic lives, but also with how this could be done in such a way that would strengthen the bonds of human brotherhood and intensify individual human dignity. Many will read this and see it as nonsense, but that's ok. It's thought provoking and makes us reevaluate our faith in modern society.
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on October 31, 2015
Not so much a novel as a lecture series, and the lectures sound pretty silly now. But the book is worth reading if only to get a sense of the utopian daydreams among progressives in the late 19th Century, when Marxism and other varieties of fascism might still seem like good ideas.

But even (or especially) if all the good intentions came to fruition, it would be awful. Bellamy thought he was describing Utopia, but it sounds more like "Brave New World," full of boring people who think exactly alike.

Of course, the discredited notions in the book are not discredited at all for many people, and if they were to make a film of "Looking Backward" it would have an audience.
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on January 15, 2017
This book surprised me, because for such an interesting concept and prescient ideas, I had never heard of it before. I would put this one right along side other Utopian/Dystopian classics as Brave New World and 1984. Although it was written before electricity was even in common use, this book makes some pretty accurate predictions regarding technology and inventions that would have been science fiction at the time. I was also impressed because given the proper circumstances, his idea for a cashless society would actually work. Some inconvenient issues were conspicuously left out or glossed over, which unfortunately weakened the credibility of the idea as a whole, possibly the reason why it has not received the attention that it deserves. On a more educational note, it reveals details of everyday 19th century life that we have never learned, or now take for granted, making it an interesting history lesson as well.
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on September 5, 2016
This was an interesting and different sort of futuristic story. It was interesting to see what they thought would constitute an improvement. The ending threw me for a loop, until it came back around to what I was expecting. The personal subplot was rather obvious in hindsight, but I did enjoy reading through it.

The Amazon-like government institution was entertaining.

But what I thought was one of the best parts was the allusion to the society of the 1880s as a coach ride, where hunger is the driver and the people on the coach are desperate to hang on, no matter what it takes.
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on September 8, 2016
Bellamy's utopia is a highly regimented society without the hand of Big Brother. How it came about is utterly unbelievable. But don't let that stop you from reading it. If you put yourself into this story, you'll spend time in a world where everyone earns the same because pay is based on what society as a whole produced, divided by the number of its members, where everyone earns the same because pay is based on human worth. It's an astonishing concept if you let it sink in. Bellamy successfully foils the question of "then why work harder than the next guy" with a counter question that draws on the best in human kind: Why do our best sacrifice their very lives for others? Think first responders or those who fight for to preserve our freedoms, think 9/11 firefighters or the men who stormed Normandy. Shouldn't captains of industry be drawn from the same pool of self-sacrifice? I actually can say, this, on my second read, was a life changing book.
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