Reading group: which HG Wells book should we read in September?

He’s the creative force behind The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and even the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Help us choose a book to tackle together by the ‘man who invented tomorrow’

This September marks the 150th anniversary of HG Wells’s birth. It’s just over 70 years since his death. Which means that the man they called the “man who invented tomorrow” is fading ever further into yesterday.

A first world war tank.
A first world war tank. Photograph: Library of Congress/Getty Images

But that’s not to say that many of his ideas aren’t still current or relevant. Or indeed that his inventions aren’t still of huge importance in our world. This is the creative force, after all, whom Winston Churchill credited with the invention of tanks (Wells dreamed up the idea in 1903, calling them The Land Ironclads). Meanwhile, Leo Szilard, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, says it was HG Wells who first made him think that it might be possible to provoke a nuclear chain reaction. You can read about Szilard on Wikipedia – and you can do so while enjoying the knowledge that Wells also wrote about something he called “the World Brain” and predicted a: “permanent world encyclopaedia, freely available in every country of the globe”. OK, Wells’s global encyclopaedia is transported by plane and stored on microfilm – but that’s still pretty good augury. So too were Wells’s descriptions of such variously handy things as cycle lanes, cellphone networks, automatic doors, telescopic rifle sites, planes and parachutes, hot taps, indoor toilets, dishwashers, and 24-hour news.

Rod Taylor in the 1960 film of The Time Machine.
Rod Taylor in the 1960 film of The Time Machine. Photograph: Moviestore Collection

But of even more lasting importance and relevance than the Great Imaginator’s real-world inventions are his books. Today he’s probably best known for his early scientific romances like The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, but he also wrote serious real-world political fiction like Ann Veronica, delightful comedies like The History of Mr Polly, top quality literary fiction like Tono-Bungay, pioneering (and hilariously satirical) modernism like Boon, groundbreaking histories like A Short History of the World and even the book that became the foundation of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights.

Wells was, in sum, a genius. It’s going to be a great pleasure to pay some of the tribute he’s due here on the Reading Group. The only difficulty is knowing which of those many wonderful books we should discuss – but that’s easily solved by holding a vote. We’ll read the book with the most nominations in the comments below. So please tell us about your favourite. There’s a useful bibliography here.

I’ll post here in a few days after tabulating the results – no doubt with more praise for Wells and his wonderfully fertile mind.

Contributor

Sam Jordison

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Reading group for September: Tono-Bungay by HG Wells
Our collective decision would have pleased the author, who singled it out as one of his most carefully wrought creations

Sam Jordison

13, Sep, 2016 @11:30 AM

Article image
Ali Smith and HG Wells webchat – as it happened
Author and HG Wells fan Ali Smith answered your questions about the writer, including sharing her favourite Wells books, exploring his opinions on eugenics and women, and why his writing still resonates today

Sam Jordison

27, Sep, 2016 @1:11 PM

Article image
Reading group: which Doris Lessing book should we read in October?
This month marks the centenary of the British-Zimbabwean’s birth, and we’re celebrating her remarkable career. Help us choose a book

Sam Jordison

01, Oct, 2019 @12:54 PM

Article image
Reading group: Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier is June's book
Her private life is these days better known than her novels, but the centenary of her debut is a good time to revisit a bold and brave writer

Sam Jordison

29, May, 2018 @4:13 PM

Article image
Reading group: which fun book should we read in September?
As the world grows more serious, we’re dedicating next month to reading that will entertain and amuse. Nominate your choice below

Sam Jordison

27, Aug, 2019 @12:01 PM

Article image
Reading group: which climate science fiction should we read in March?
From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, the genre has been worrying over climate change for centuries. Please help choose one from many novels

Sam Jordison

03, Mar, 2020 @11:15 AM

Article image
Make Room! Make Room! is our reading group book for March
Set in the then-distant future of 1999, Harry Harrison’s classic dystopia, which inspired the film Soylent Green, is your climate-crisis fiction choice

Sam Jordison

10, Mar, 2020 @11:59 AM

Article image
Choose March's Reading group book: Philip K Dick

The 'Shakespeare of science fiction' continues to inspire writers, film-makers and musicians. Which of his books should we pick?

Sam Jordison

26, Feb, 2014 @2:29 PM

Article image
Reading group: which funny book should we read this month?
Terry Pratchett, PG Wodehouse, Muriel Spark, Beryl Bainbridge ... we want to start 2019 with a laugh, so nominate a book here

Sam Jordison

01, Jan, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
Reading group: which book should we read to understand India's partition?
To mark the 70th anniversary since India and Pakistan were divided, let’s explore the legacy of the bloody and tumultuous partition through a rich body of fiction

Sam Jordison

29, Aug, 2017 @1:39 PM