The Outline of History, by H. G. Wells

February 17, 2011 at 20:48 (Book Reviews, Historical, Mediocre Books, Philosophy, Theology) (, , , )


HG Wells did not write a history as much as he wrote a manifesto and a worldview. Every event covered, every omission and each jot of praise or revilement is saturated in Wells’ fervent belief in a universal federation of all mankind, and his earnest desire to classify religion as a state of human infancy, out of which men must evolve. His tone is often condescending and frequently foolish; he is unable to countenance any other view of the world than his own, and his own view is often narrow and prejudiced, though he does make bold efforts towards pulling down old strongholds of racist ethnology, pseudohistory and icons of nationalist legend.

Almost every section includes self-satisfied explanations that men in the olden days were no more intelligent than infants, and that we ought not expect them to have grand or beautiful ideas. This goes some way in supporting his social evolution and even his cosmology, as he protests that early man could not be expected to understand that the sky was not a solid dome just above the trees, or that rain came to him naturally. In fact, as Chesterton points out, one of Wells’ most glaring flaws is his bizarre familiarity with his subjects. He professes to know the intimate secrets of the Roman mind, or the early Hebrew mind, the Dravidian mind, the Cro-Magnon mind. He tells us how they saw the world as a sublime contrast with how he himself sees it, and thereby exalts his vision.

Especially when considering this style of writing, the Outline of History is not a book that anyone will come to as a standard textbook. It is too partisan, too Wellsian and above all too concerned with minutiae and obsessed with dates and nonentities for that. It is a book that will always reflect back to 1929 and the mindset of the scientific historian in that era. Therein lies its value, and its value is lessened by Postgate’s “completion” of its days up to the 1960s. One might as well “complete” Carlyle’s French Revolution into the 1990s! For a dyed-in-the-wool rationalist reader, this will be a gospel for the choir, but it will not be better history for all that.



  1. Omar Faruque said,

    Religions were evolve of human mind. No apologist can answer religious question. Plread more

  2. J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

    Actually, your writing on theology seems incredibly eisegetical, and based mostly on your own opinions, expectations, and an urgent need to hammer out comparitive religions on a procrustean bed of your own devising, chopping away at pieces that don’t fit, and reading an immense amount into that which is, at best, mere hint and suggestion.

    Obviously H. G. Wells believed that he could decisively answer questions of theology; his entire historical, sociological and anthropological worldviews were based on a narrow ideal. He has been constantly (and sometimes successfully) challenged in this.

    It is enough for me to answer that your axiom “No apologist can answer religious question,” ought really to be, “No apologist can answer religious questions, when God is a construct of my own mind, and therefore private to me.” This is a rather common retreat, and a rather shabby sibling of pantheism; but also a position that is unlikely to be resolved by H. G. Wells.

  3. Omar Faruque said,

    The problem with theological apologist is they cannot answer any question, or solve puzzles. I have no such bindings as I am not a theology student. I cn see things pretty practicale way and research from the original scriptures, so does not derive too far away.

    origin of theology basically was to provide moral education in ancient timeand require great deal of revision, people can still live without the ambit of religion and eastern philosophy is a great eamaple.

  4. J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

    That is the pith of Wells’ argument, yes. What is yours?

  5. Omar Faruque said,

    I felt proud that my ideas can communicate with 20 th century great philosopher H.G Wells. From the reference of his biography I am now motivated that he was not at least a narrow thinker and his immense contribution added value to building free thinking society, ice braking of an orthodox Christianity. Suggestion for “men in the olden days were no more intelligent than infants” are true arguments to believe that Plato’s cave theory was also an infancy but we are fortunate to escape that era.

    But rather I should say doctrine of theology was not based on solid foundation, and cannot be tested outside the imaginary theory. We need to get rid of this as early as we possible. Living in a fantasy for a certain period could be tolerated but need more productive thought emphasising on socio- economic scale.

    We have more urgent need for neediest, and spending any amount of time teaching miracles are nothing more than discarding others need and money.

    My new post is now visible in my site to describe how we can live with God without religion.

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