The World Set Free is a novel published in 1914 by H. G. Wells. The book is considered a prophetical novel foretelling the advent of nuclear weapons. A constant theme in Wells’ work, such as his 1901 nonfiction book Anticipations, was the role of energy and technological advance as a determinant of human progress.
The novel opens with this: "The story of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal." Scientists of the day were well aware that the slow natural radioactive decay of elements like radium continues for thousands of years, and that while the rate of energy release is negligible, the total amount released is huge. Wells used this as the basis for his story.
Wells describes nuclear weapons as the most destructive power imaginable in a novel written in the early 1900s. Much of what Wells hypothesizes now qualifies as prophecy since coming true. Wells studied the cutting-edge science of his time and planted what he learned in this futuristic novel. The theme will be familiar to Wells’ fans: Mankind is power-hungry, and human progress is determined by the speed and sophistication of technological advancement. Narrator Eric Brooks’ British accent and professorial tone match the philosophical-sounding text. Brooks fleshes out the characters and the plot, but like Wells himself Brooks’ main focus is the theme; he thoughtfully conveys Wells’ near psychic expository rhetoric.
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- Robert W Carlisle Jr