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Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 31 Mar 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (31 Mar. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141441119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141441115
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 436,106 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."

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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'.

Edward Mendelson is a writer and critic with a particular interest in W.H. Auden.

Patrick Parrinder has written on H.G. Wells, science fiction, James Joyce and the history of the English novel. Since 1986 he has been Professor of English at the University of Reading.


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Most people in this world seem to live 'in character'; they have a beginning, a middle and an end, and the three are congruous one with another and true to the rules of their type. Read the first page
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brian Flange on 9 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
Critics like to categorise Wells' novels under neat headings like 'Social Comedy', 'Problem Novel' or 'Scientific Romance'. Wells himself often didn't give a hoot for such distinctions and 'Tono-Bungay' sees him trample splendidly all over the neat genre-boundaries critics love, since it's got social comedy, financial problems and even a smattering of science fiction in the mix too.
'Tono-Bungay' is notionally the autobiography of George Ponderevo, who describes a very Wellsian ascent from son of belowstairs servants to financial mastermind (and weapons-monger). The first part of the book, where George describes his early life as servant's child at Bladesover House, is one of Wells' best sustained pieces of writing and an unforgettable picture of England in his day.
George largely grows up under the erratically brilliant care of his Uncle Edward, inventor of the patent medicine that seals their fortunes and gives the book its title. Buoyed up by Uncle Edward's quackery, George rises to such heights that he can fund his own flying-machines and destroyers. (En route, he tries to corner the world market in a curious substance called 'quap', which seems to be radioactive, and which Wells uses as a symbol of some deep disorder in the physical world itself.)
Although notionally George's autobiography, 'Tono-Bungay' has its real centre in the irrepressible Uncle Edward, and the story flags a bit when he isn't on stage. 'Tono-Bungay' fizzes with ideas and situations but yields a deep feeling of sadness for its central character - who never quite translates all his plans into happiness or love.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By mkiiicortina on 11 Jun. 2005
Format: Paperback
If you think concerns about materialism, rampant consumerism and waste are anything new you should read this. Wells was on to it more than a hundred years ago in this novel about the rise and fall of a business empire founded on the success of an ineffectual tonic, Tono-Bungay. A fortune is made by selling this 'mischievous trash'. Wells seems very pessimistic about the human condition but there is humour to be found throughout, The novel seems more relevant today than ever and it's surprising that it's not a more famous classic. I highly recommend it.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Paul Clift on 25 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback
Although the title Tono Bungay is the name of a fictitious and extremely profitable tonic, this novel is in fact the gripping autobiography of George Ponderevo, the nephew of Tono Bungay's inventor. We follow George from his humble beginnings through his doubting involvement in the marketing of a practically useless tonic medicine (actually based on Coca Cola) to his development of flying machines and modern warships.

George's doubts flow from his socialism (Wells himself was a Fabian) and his warm sense of humanity. Through the adventures of one of the most engaging characters in fiction, we are presented with a critical view of free-market Capital and the lengths it will go to seduce and persuade people into parting with their cash for the least return. Although published in Edwardian England (1909) its relevance and contemporary reference to our world today is startling: in a fast-moving narrative (blink and you miss it - don't be tempted to skip the odd paragraph) we find cash for honours, the rapid but fragile rise of the unprincipled entrepreneur, a subtle but significant allusion to drug addiction, exploitation of Africa...

The narrator himself is convivial company, and his observations and life-events kept grounded by his Aunt Susan who, although she too becomes vastly rich thanks to the financial success of her husband's business, remains down to earth throughout.

In short, this novel succeeds in giving an examination of Capitalism and the society it produces and feeds off, while being at all times an engaging account of warm, human characters.

My only reservations are about the notes to this Penguin edition. To be fair to Penguin, they head the notes with a statement that "...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By elsie on 8 Nov. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Took a lot of getting into but worth the trouble. Interesting concept of life and situations you find yourself in.
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