New Historian

H.G. Wells – A Short History of the World

The Earth

<![CDATA[Nowadays H.G. Wells is mostly remembered for his innovative science fiction novels, a genre he is considered one of the founders of. Works such as 'The Time Machine', 'The War of the Worlds' and 'The Invisible Man' have all been adapted into movies while also serving as frameworks for a variety of subsequent writers. These works of course deserve the acclaim they receive, but to focus exclusively on Wells' contribution to the sci-fi genre is to overlook a great deal of his extensive talents, something highlighted by 'A Short History Of The World'. Wells' diverse writing extends into topics such as history, politics, social commentary and biology. He was educated as a biologist, which explains the Darwinian approach which is often used in his ideas and analysis. He was often an outspoken socialist and at the start of the First World War had publicly expressed sympathy with pacifist views. A Short History Of The World was first published in 1922 by Cassell and Co, Ltd Publishing. The book covers the origins of the earth millions of years ago, the development of life and then civilisation, and ends with discussions on the First World War, the Russian Famine of 1921 and the creation of the League of Nations. The book is impressive in its scope and groundbreaking in its approach. It is the first book of its kind to try and narrate the entirety of the planet's history on an evolutionary, sociological and anthropological basis. The basis of the Short History was Wells' earlier work The Outline of History. The two volume work was immensely popular but the saturation of timelines and charts, together with its extensive length, made it an intimidating and complicated read for the general reader. The two hundred or so pages of the Short History were written for an audience who didn't have time to read the longer text, but still wished to 'refresh and repair his faded or fragmentary conceptions of the great adventure of mankind.' Well's history doesn't focus on the actions of 'great men'. Many history books from this period viewed the actions of politicians, idealists and military figures as the driving force of history but this isn't Wells approach. Neither does he take the Marxist approach that one might expect as a result of his socialist beliefs. Instead, his history is a narrative, a sequencing of events that occasionally stops to discuss issues or matters that stand out to the author as significant. History is presented without any attempt to place it into a politicised framework. This neutrality is of course a statement in itself. As mentioned above a study of Darwinism greatly influenced Wells' work. He describes history as a natural development, not just in the formation of life and the earth, but in the progression of society and civilisation. The book focuses on the continuity in history, the broader processes that remained constant such as technological advancement, alongside the small scale changes. The book, written just after the end of World War One, also questions the dark side of technological progress, which had become so apparent in the mechanised mass killing of the First World War. Wells' book is a fascinating and concise look at the history of the world. Some of its content might seem a little dated for modern readers- the chronology of the creation of the earth and development of life has since been questioned by more recent studies - but broadly speaking the processes described are still relevant. Like much of Wells' work, the book is easy to read for a modern audience, with a surprisingly contemporary style. It serves as an interesting insight into the world view of nineteenth century Britain, and presents a unique approach to telling the story of the past that is just as insightful for modern readers as it was for those in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Related Books

A Short History of the World
by H. G. Wells

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