Looking Backwards (Review)

Looking Backwards (Review)

ully titled Looking Backwards: 2000-1887, this utopian science fiction novel was a landslide blockbuster hit (only third behind Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur). Published in 1888, it broke all sorts of records for sales. Hundreds of clubs formed to discuss the novel and its ideals, and its proposal for a better world.

In a word.


Yes, poor Julian West, suffering insomnia, has himself put to sleep by quackish means in a crypt-like basement, only to find out (through later evidence) that his house burned down, his servant died, and nobody was there to wake him. Locked in suspended animation, he is finally awakened in 2000 to a perfect world with brotherhood, fairness, social equality and worldwide contentment. No money, either. Yes, the perfect socialist world.

Disclaimer – I do believe in socialism, a socialism of the future, tied to the profit motive, where people who wish to better themselves can but nobody ends up dying alone under cold freeway overpasses. I’ve even given to the Kshama Sawant campaign – go, girl, go!

So it’s interested, this series of lectures in the construction of the world. Edward Bellamy, the author, takes great effort in showing how it could work, how things all fit together so that everyone is happy and nobody resentful. And that’s good. Some of his ideas are plausible (I liked the idea that everyone works at jobs, but the jobs that suck lure workers by offering fewer hours in a shift), while some of them are not (workers are organized by guilds, with performance backed by “military pride” to ensure everyone works their hardest. And that’s a fine thought, but after seeing the decay of the military in Vietnam and it’s countless bush wars (pun intended) since then, it’s hard to see where one can rely, day to day, year to year, on “spirit” to insure productivity).

Where Bellamy is his most powerful are his ideals. Yes, it’s unlikely that the rich will simply lay down their advantage to promote equality. However, he does point out that the way things were going (in his time) was towards greater and greater monopolies, companies becoming so massive they become empires in themselves. And just as the American Revolution granted common people the rights previously enjoyed by nobility (arguable, given what I read in The People’s History of the United States), it is an interesting crossover idea. There are several other images, those illustrating the inefficiencies of capitalism and the evils of economic classes, that will stick by me. The one involving a carriage pulled along a sandy road will stick with me forever.

While preachy in places, I’ll give the author his due – he sets up a wonderful double-whammy ending that really satisfies. I wasn’t sure where we were going and had to smile at the misdirection. Quite clever.

Anyway, if you are open-minded enough to consider another point of view, and a reader enough to tackle something 130 years old, this one’s for you. You can get it free HERE. Enjoy!