- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Dover Publications; Revised ed. edition (April 12 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0486290387
- ISBN-13: 978-0486290386
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.1 x 20.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 141 g
- Average Customer Review: 40 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #357,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Looking Backward Paperback – Apr 12 1996
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From the Back Cover
First published in 1888, Looking Backward was one of the most popular novels of its day. Translated into more than 20 languages, its utopian fantasy influenced such thinkers as John Dewey and Thorstein Veblen. Writing from a 19th-century perspective and poignantly critical of his own time, Bellamy advanced a remarkable vision of the future, including such daring predictions as the existence of radio, television, motion pictures, and credit cards.
On the surface, the novel is the story of time-traveler Julian West, a young Bostonian who is put into a hypnotic sleep in the late 19th century, and awakens in the year 2000 in a socialist utopia. Crime, war, personal animosity, and want are nonexistent. Equality of the sexes is a fact of life. In short, a messianic state of brotherly love is in effect.
Entertaining, stimulating, and thought-provoking, Looking Backward is a provocative study of human society as it is and as it might be.
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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..............
While I do respect Bellamy's views and understand the context in which they germinated, I cannot help but describe his future utopia as nothing less than naïve, socialistic, unworkable, and destructive of the individual spirit. Indeed, it sounds to me like vintage Soviet communism, at least in its ideals. Bellamy is a Marxist with blinders on. I should describe the actual novel at this point. The protagonist, an insomniac having employed a mesmerist to help him sleep through the night, finds himself waking up not the following morning in 1887 but in a completely changed world in 2000. His bed chamber was a subterranean fortress of sorts which only he, his servant, and the mesmerist (who left the city that same night) even knew about, and apparently his home proper burned down on that fateful night and thus his servant was clearly unable to bring him out of his trance the following morning. It is only by accident that Dr. Leekes of twentieth-century Boston discovers the unknown tomb and helps resuscitate its remarkable inhabitant. 20th-century life is wholly unlike anything the protagonist has ever known, and the book basically consists of a number of instruction sessions by the Leekes as to how society has been virtually perfected over the preceding 100 years. There is no more war, crime, unhappiness, discrimination, etc. There are no such things as wages or prices, even. All men and women are paid the same by virtue of their being human beings; while money does not exist, everyone has everything they possibly need easily available to them for purchase with special credit cards. Every part of the economy is controlled by the national government, and it is through cooperation of the brotherhood of men that production has exceeded many times over that of privately controlled industries fighting a war against each other in the name of capitalism.
Bellamy's future utopia is most open to question in terms of the means by which individualism is supposedly strengthened rather than smothered, how a complex but seemingly set of incentives supposedly keep each worker happy and productive, how invention or improvement of anything is possible in such a world, and how this great society does not in fact become a mirror of Khrushchev's Russian state. Such a society consisting of an "industrial army" and controlled in the minutest of terms by a central national authority simply sounds like Communism to my ears and is equally as unsustainable. Of course, Bellamy wrote this novel many years before the first corruptions of Marx's dangerous dreams were made a reality on earth. As I said, I disagree with just about everything Bellamy praises, and I think almost anyone would agree his utopia is an impossibility, but I greatly respect the man for his bold, humanitarian vision and applaud his efforts to make the world a better place. In fact, many groups organized themselves along the lines of the world Bellamy envisioned, so the novel's influence on contemporary popular thought is beyond question. Looking Backward remains a fascinating read in our own time.
I should make clear that the novel is not completely a dry recitation of socioeconomic arguments and moralistic treatises. Bellamy makes the story of this most unusual of time travelers a most enjoyable one, bringing in an unusual type of old-fashioned romance to supply the beating heart of a novel that had the potential to become overly analytical and thus rather boring reading otherwise. He also managed to grab me by the scruff of the neck and shake me around a couple of times with his concluding chapter, quite shocking me with a couple of unexpected plot twists. This great humanist of the late nineteenth century can teach us all something about what it means to be truly human, although I fear that his socioeconomic theories are themselves far too romanticized to have much practical relevance in the lives of modern men and women.
At first, the book is quite interesting. Bellamy does a good job of capturing the protagonist's surpise and confusion at the new world he discovers. The fact that Edith Leete looks like his fiance back in 1887 Boston is a neat twist. The socialist state the author describes is appealing to me, and as someone who believes that socialism can work, I found it thought provoking.
The problem is, there is not enough story or character development here. Bellamy's ideas aren't really suited to the fictional form. He'd have been better off to write a solely political tract. Because the author can't seem to decide if he wants to write a novel or a political essay, both the narrative and the politics are oversimplified, and given short shrift. The introduction by Cecilia Titchi (pardon my spelling), was excellent. In fact, the book fails to live up to it. If you know nothing about socialism, this book my enlighten you as to the philosophy. If it is an option for a political science class, it would be a good pick because it is easy and quick reading. Otherwise, I wouldn't rush to read it.
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