REVIEW: The World Set Free by H.G. Wells

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars, Genre: General Fiction/Classics, Pages: 132, Level: Intermediate

Book Description:

“This chilling, futuristic novel, written in 1913 and first published the following year, was incredibly prophetic on a major scale. Wells was a genius and visionary, as demonstrated by many of his other works, but this book is clearly one of his best. He predicts nuclear warfare years before research began and describes the chain reactions involved and the resulting radiation. He describes a weapon of enormous destructive power, used from the air that would wipe out everything for miles, and actually used the term “atomic bombs.” This book may have been at least part of the original inspiration for the development of atomic weapons, as well as presenting many other ideas that would ultimately come to pass. Some ideas may still be coming, including a one-world government referred to as The World Republic, that will attempt to end all wars.”

I listened to the audio recording on as I walked/jogged on weekdays at 5:30 in the morning. In the interest of full disclosure, I did tune out from time to time. I did not find The World Set Free to be a page turner.

Basically, man discovers nuclear power, then a nuclear war breaks out and finally, a new world order is set up and the world is a much better place.

This book seems to be largely remembered as a prediction of nuclear power and nuclear war, but it also addresses social issues. Since this review was written shortly after the whole 99% movement in 2012, the social commentary seems quite relevant right now. Indeed, a small portion of The World Set Free comments on the disparity between rich and poor.

Wells seems to predict several technological advances, societal ills and obviously, the nuclear issue and its possible aftermath to include a new world order. My problem with this book is that a lot of it reads like non-fiction- a narrator basically lecturing or reading from a history book. It is a book that I would expect to find on a high school or college reading list, one that would be trudged through and then discussed. Finally, each student would be required to turn in a paper drawing comparisons between the book, today’s society and our possible future. Are we headed in that direction? What are the clues? During the most recent presidential election, which presidential candidate’s platform would be more conducive to Wells’ world order?

I think I may have to come back to this and read the actual, physical book. It was probably not a good idea to listen to this one. And I must have heard the story wrong, but the new, improved world society seems to have magically done away with religion and self-interest, or some mumbo jumbo of the sort. And there are a lot more problems I had with the book, but I definitely want to read it first to make sure I heard correctly and didn’t doze off one too many times, because it seemed rather disjointed and not quite as ingenious as many reviewers have claimed. I must have missed quite a bit.

The end is what troubles me the most. I am going to have to do some research into this book and Wells to find if Wells is predicting this, believes it himself or both. The main character at the end encourages a more functional life, doing away with sexual love, individuality and gender identification. While I understand the argument as well as how it would do away with much conflict, I still think it is bologna. For example, Karenin states that women need to stop thinking of themselves as women but rather as intelligent beings. Last time I checked, I could do both. And just because I recognize myself as a woman, the opposite of a man obviously, doesn’t mean I define myself in relation to a man. It is not my fault that was the word chosen for my gender. If men suddenly disappeared, I would still be a woman.

The World Set Free is not going to read like a regular fiction novel. Even in the parts that tell a story, a lot is narration rather than dialogue. When there is dialogue, it comes across more like grandiose speeches. I would have enjoyed reading this with someone who agreed with the points Wells argues in this book, so we could have an intelligent debate afterwards. Bottom line- don’t expect a beach read.

Reviewed by Christina

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