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A Modern Utopia (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

H G Wells , Francis Wheen
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 Mar 2005 Penguin Classics
While walking in the Swiss Alps, two English travellers fall into a space-warp, and suddenly find themselves in another world. In many ways the same as our own - even down to the characters that inhabit it - this new planet is still somehow radically different, for the two walkers are now upon a Utopian Earth controlled by a single World Government. Here, as they soon learn, all share a common language, there is sexual, economic and racial equality, and society is ruled by socialist ideals enforced by an austere, voluntary elite: the 'Samurai'. But what will the Utopians make of these new visitors from a less perfect world?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (31 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141441127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141441122
  • Product Dimensions: 18.4 x 14.3 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England, on September 21, 1866. His father was a professional cricketer and sometime shopkeeper, his mother a former lady's maid. Although "Bertie" left school at fourteen to become a draper's apprentice (a life he detested), he later won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London, where he studied with the famous Thomas Henry Huxley. He began to sell articles and short stories regularly in 1893.

In 1895, his immediately successful novel rescued him from a life of penury on a schoolteacher's salary. His other "scientific romances" - The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898), The First Men in the Moon (1901), and The War in the Air (1908) - won him distinction as the father of science fiction.

Henry James saw in Wells the most gifted writer of the age, but Wells, having coined the phrase "the war that will end war" to describe World War I, became increasingly disillusioned and focused his attention on educating mankind with his bestselling Outline of History (1920) and his later utopian works. Living until 1946, Wells witnessed a world more terrible than any of his imaginative visions, and he bitterly observed: "Reality has taken a leaf from my book and set itself to supercede me."

Product Description

About the Author

H.G. Wells was a professional writer and journalist, who published more than a hundred books, including novels, histories, essays and programmes for world regeneration. Wells's prophetic imagination was first displayed in pioneering works of science fiction, but later he became an apostle of socialism, science and progress. His controversial views on sexual equality and the shape of a truly developed nation remain directly relevant to our world today. He was, in Bertrand Russell's words, 'an important liberator of thought and action'.

Francis Wheen is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He has written for most British national newspapers and was Columnist of the Year in 1997. His biography of Karl Marx won the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize, and has been translated into more than 20 languages. He is deputy editor of Private Eye.

Gregory Claeys is a historian at the University of Royal Holloway, London.


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The Utopia of a modern dreamer must needs differ in one fundamental aspect from the Nowheres and Utopias men planned before Darwin1 quickened the thought of the world. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fragile souls to abstrain reading this book 6 Jun 2011
Format:Paperback
H.G. Wells has to be re-evaluated fast. He is seen as a myth that has little to do with the reality of what he is.

Only a few of his novels are well known and have been over-used in the cinema: The Time Machine, The War of The Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man. His 1936 film, Things to Come, has been re-mastered on DVD. But all his non-fiction has disappeared in print. Luckily you can find it on the Internet.

This 1905 book is essential to get rid of the myth.

First of all, and above all, H.G. Wells is against any form of racialism, racism and racial discrimination. It is clearly expressed in the tenth chapter of the book. We cannot repeat it enough and mot people get trapped by the overuse of the word "race" in phase with that period when people decided to call the human species the human race, and to use race in all intellectual concoctions that could be invented about man and humanity.

But second H.G. Wells is a deep and intense eugenist. In the fifth chapter of this book he enumerates the people that should be "eliminated," the word is his: "congenital invalids, idiots and madmen, drunkards and men of vicious mind, cruel and furtive souls, stupid people, too stupid to be of use to the community, lumpish, unteachable and unimaginative people." You cannot be more systematic in the elimination of people who are a burden to society. They have to be eliminated not by being killed but isolated in islands, one category in each island and sexes separated for each category in two different islands.

Even worse. He advocates in 1905 a minimum wage for those who are out of work.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Counteract all the Dystopias out there! 24 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a present for a 15 year old boy who has read all teenage dystopias popular right now.
Still waiting to hear what he makes of it.....
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable, waste of money buy a proper copy. 11 Jun 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
You should clearly state in the title description this is a computer generated copy. I didn't know they even existed until this garbled rubbish turned up.
I really do not understand why someone would think this is a good idea, the technology is clearly not up to it, so why bother.
Just because computers exist, it doesn't mean we have to create jobs for them.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Utopia for Diverse People 23 Nov 2007
By Paul Camp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
_A Modern Utopia_ (1905) by H.G. Wells deals with two men who are transported instantaneously to a distant planet that is physically identical to Earth. However, this planet contains a worldwide, kinetic, and socialistic Utopian society that differs radically from that of our own world. Wells dispenses with some of the disbelief involved with a certain amount of charm:

The whole world will surely have a common language, that is quite elementarily Utopian, and since we are free of the trammels of convincing storytelling, we may suppose that the language to be sufficiently our own to understand. (17)

Perhaps the first thing to note about _A Modern Utopia_ is that it contains some very perceptive criticism of Utopian literature:

There must always be a certain effect of hardness and thinness about Utopian speculations. Their common fault is to be comprehensively jejune. That which is the blood and warmth and reality of life is largely absent; there are no individualities, but only generalised people. In almost every Utopia-- except, perhaps, Morris's "News from Nowhere"-- one sees handsome but characterless buildings, symmetrical and perfect cultivations, and a multitude of people... without any personal distinction whatever. (9)

Does _A Modern Utopia_ escape these problems? Perhaps not entirely. But it comes close to doing so. First, there are the characters. The visitors to Utopia are the narrator, a portly, middle-aged version of Wells and a rather petty botanist, who is constantly mooning about a shallow romance of his youth. Shortly after they enter Utopia, they meet a blond-haired, sandal-shod, back-to-Nature spokesman (modeled on William Morris), who has nothing good to say about Utopia. Shortly before their departure, the narrator meets his double, a member of the _samurai_, or ruling class of Utopia. Other members of Utopia include a bewildered innkeeper, a polite but efficient bureaucrat, assorted criminals and social failures, an amiable supervisor of a toy factory, various students and business people, and W.E. Henley (who proves to be as irascible in this world as in ours). Wells's point is that his Utopia is populated with _individuals_-- and not all of these individuals are noble, wise, and virtuous. There must be restrictions in this Utopia, but there also must be flexibility enough to allow for some freedom and individual differences.

Wells also gives a certain amount of attention to architecture and engineering. He describes in some detail an Alpine inn, a train, a hostel in continental Europe, and some streets and buildings in the city of London. Wells envisions all of these structures as essentially modern in style. We can understand why Wells, writing at the turn of the twentieth century, might have a strong reaction against the ugliness and dirtiness of Victorian architecture. But readers living at the turn of the twenty-first century have lived for some time with modern architecture. They may be forgiven for feeling less enthusiastic about this style.

Two chapters are still timely today. The first is chapter six, which deals with women in a modern Utopia. (Wells felt that there should be some restrictions on marriage, but that women should be paid for rearing children.) The second is the penultimate chapter, which deals with race in a modern utopia (or, to be more precise, racism in our own society). In this chapter, the botanist reveals some repulsive racist traits that were all too common in Wells's day. The modern reader should read these chapters and judge how far (or how little) we have progressed.

There are some other areas of controversy or interest connected with the modern Utopia. Capital punishment has been abolished, but euthenasia for babies with certain birth defects exists. Criminals and misfits may be eventually banished to selected islands. There is a hint that Wells was not altogether satisfied with this condition. The _samurai_ tells the narrator that he is currently engaged in a project to reform or improve the approach to dealing with the exiles, but he does not suggest a specific solution. A third area of interest is the economy of Utopia. The Utopians have abandoned the gold standard in favor of units of energy. We have gradually moved off the gold standard, though we have not adopted units of energy... or have we? In these days of oil-hungry societies, are we not moving in that direction?

Many readers and critics argue that Wells's utopian novels do not measure up to his scientific romances, such as _The Time Machine_ (1895), or his mainstream novels, such as _Tono-Bungay_ (1910). There is justice in this criticism. But such criticism should not cause you to ignore _A Modern Utopia_. It is well written and thoughtful. It is still fresh after over a century.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps a Modern Dystopia 28 Feb 2001
By unraveler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Wells imagines a world that resembles our own, but is much more humane and rational. In this utopian world everyone has a job to go to, everything is well organized, and peopel are well-mannered--a kind of full-employment Victoria era with central planning and plenty of monorails.
I find Wells' sci-fi works more compelling than his straight social commentary and vision, such as found in this book. He imagines human beings and the conditions of the modern world as being much simpler than they really are. And in this he is not alone. He is tempted by the sin of all utopians from Plato to Thomas More, to Karl Marx to believe in a simplistic schema of a solution for all social ills. Wells rejected Marx, but he was a Fabian socialist. He saw mcuh hard work and injustice in his life and sought a remedy, but his "modern utopia" is not the solution. He puts altogether too much faith in the rationality of the government and expects too little of all kinds of unpredictable events and unintended consequences.
I find that in the utopia he described life would be boring and imagination severely limited. I doubt that after a few months of life in his own utopia Wells would still want to stay. The world is not perfect, but it would be worse if it were more like "modern utopia."
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Utopia for real people 9 Aug 2007
By wiredweird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In narrative style, this is about the oddest Utopia story I've seen. It alternates almost seamlessly between the usual kind of Utopian fiction and a here-amd-now narrative in a voice that seems to be Wells's own. In the here-and-now, the speaker ponders the human state and reasons closely on an idealized world that still has room in it for fallible, real people. Then the thought gels, and the fantasy world comes to life to play out the points discussed. A companion joins our speaker throughout the story, fact-like and fantastic parts both, and embodies plenty of the human condition that would need to be accomodated: in need of immediate gratification, given more to involuntary emotional reaction than to thinking, and self-centered in a way that's blind, innocent, and pervasive.

As promised in the title, it's modern in ways that many more recent Utopias aren't. Wells considers the unavoidable inequality of child-bearing duties, and turns full-time motherhood into a paying profession. He acknowledges acquisitiveness and cupidity - rather than wide-open warehouses, his Utopia uses money to add wisdom (or at least thought) to the choices made in what to take home. He discusses race and racial superiority in terms that his 1905 audience would have found familiar. In the end, he argues for economic and legal equality not on the grounds of actual equality, a point that he leaves undecided, but on the grounds that no group in history has ever shown that it deserved to hold the upper hand.

There's more, much more, including a wealth of references to other Utopian literature - that by itself might almost have justified the cost of this book. Wells's interleaving of multiple levels of fiction also makes for an unusual reading experience. But it's the ideal world itself that stands out, mostly by not standing out. Real people didn't set out to create a bad world, so most of what we've worked out has a lot going for it. Above all, what we've got has room in it for many kinds of people, not all of whom will or can devote themselves to some moral ideal. "A Modern Utopia" is complex and layered in its presentation, but equally complex in what might look like banality of solutions to pressing social problems. Social improvement mattered too much to Wells for him to let it seem glib or impossible.

-- wiredweird
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dystopia or Utopia? 31 Dec 2007
By Michael Valdivielso - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First off, let me say, I think H.G. Wells is one of the best authors of all time. But when it comes to designing examples of human society he needs help. For example - to keep people employed they are sent to where the labor is needed. They are given just the minimum, shelter and food and clothing, for what is looked at as the minimum of work. In other words, a labor force of wage-slaves, forced to move around the planet at the needs of the factories and businesses. If you HAPPEN to be educated enough or hyperactive enough to do more than the normal amount of work you can gain more or, in the case of women, be allowed to have kids. And if you are really smart, healthy and active you can become Samurai - nobles of the world.
The end results sounds more like a system set up in the Middle Ages, with most of the labor moving to where the jobs are, a small middle class of above normal workers and a class of supermen, and some women, at the top. I am sorry Wells, but this is not a Utopia. Even after talking about individualism and the equality of women in the end this more like a nightmare, and a boring one at that.
You should read it, because many modern books on utopias and dystopias will use it as part of the background on the subject. But I don't think anybody should really talk about it as a serious system of World Government.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Squeamish people should not read this book 6 Jun 2011
By Jacques COULARDEAU - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
H.G. Wells has to be re-evaluated fast. He is seen as a myth that has little to do with the reality of what he is.

Only a few of his novels are well known and have been over-used in the cinema: The Time Machine, The War of The Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man. His 1936 film, Things to Come, has been re-mastered on DVD. But all his non-fiction has disappeared in print. Luckily you can find it on the Internet.

This 1905 book is essential to get rid of the myth.

First of all, and above all, H.G. Wells is against any form of racialism, racism and racial discrimination. It is clearly expressed in the tenth chapter of the book. We cannot repeat it enough and mot people get trapped by the overuse of the word "race" in phase with that period when people decided to call the human species the human race, and to use race in all intellectual concoctions that could be invented about man and humanity.

But second H.G. Wells is a deep and intense eugenist. In the fifth chapter of this book he enumerates the people that should be "eliminated," the word is his: "congenital invalids, idiots and madmen, drunkards and men of vicious mind, cruel and furtive souls, stupid people, too stupid to be of use to the community, lumpish, unteachable and unimaginative people." You cannot be more systematic in the elimination of people who are a burden to society. They have to be eliminated not by being killed but isolated in islands, one category in each island and sexes separated for each category in two different islands.

Even worse. He advocates in 1905 a minimum wage for those who are out of work. That's a great idea in his time but these unemployed have to do a few things in society to compensate for the money they receive from the state, and there is an absolute condition: they have to refrain from procreation. The poor and unemployed have to stop making children. That is more that gross. It is absurd and absolutely in-humane.

We could spend a lot of time on the positive vision of a society entirely dominated by scientists and reason. He will advocate these ideas in his 1936 film and that is frightening because science and the scientific elite become the tyrants of this society.

But we have to see that this extreme social Darwinism has little to do with the Marxisrt social genetic Darwinism he exposes in The Time Machine for example, and even less to do with the American social Darwinism of his time that advocated that the poor were not supposed to be helped because to be successful in society is a sign of the fact that the hand of God is on your side, and to be poor is the sign of the fact that God has abandoned you. This bunch of mostly religious thinkers - if they can be considered as able to think - defend the natural social selection of dying early from diseases and starvation, especially children.

But H.G. Wells advocates a eugenism that is at least as extreme as what was standard in Scandinavia at the time and will produce the criminal eugenism of Hitler and consorts.

There is a lot of re-evaluation to be done about H.G. Wells. And it is urgent indeed. I must say Simon Wells, the great grandson of the writer, has already done a lot about that in his adaptation of The Time Machine in 2002.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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