So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy.
Looking Backward, while written over 120 years ago, is about what the author envisioned the 21st century could have been like if the USA had embraced Socialist principles. Very popular when it was written (right up there with Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben Hur), it is about a young 19th century upper class white man's surprising re-introduction to society when he wakes up from a 113 year nap at the dawn of the 21st century. Similar to Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" and Woody Allen's Sleeper in plot structure but told without parody or humor, in Looking Backward the world has changed dramatically while our hero slept.

Bellamy's hero is awakened by a retired doctor and his wife and daughter when they find him sleeping in a chamber under their garden. This family slowly introduces him to the wonders of a modern Socialist state where the nation is the only employer and the people's army works for the common good. Each chapter explores a different aspect of this modern cooperative society. Chapter 15 describes Bellamy's vision of the future of publishing, 16 discusses art, 19 is devoted to law, and 20 to education. The ideas are mostly presented through dialogs with the doctor with few actual visits and interactions. Economic progress is stressed over technological change.

Written before the Great Depression, Communism, National Socialism, two World Wars and the Holocaust, Bellamy's book blames much of the world's problems on social inequality and the pursuit of personal gain. He envisions the United States leading the world into a just brotherhood where humans work together for the common good. It is interesting to read today Bellamy's vision of looking back from an alternative world that never came into being although fervently desired by many at the time. For Bellamy and his readers the enemy was Capitalism and salvation was to be had in Communism and National Socialism. He envisions a world where these ideas were embraced by the USA instead of Stalin and Hitler and led to a Utopian society.

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