The Young H G Wells – Changing the World by Clare Tomalin

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

This is the first book that I have read as part of the 2022 NonFiction Reader Challenge hosted by ShelleyRae at Bookd Out I have previously read Clare Tomalin’s biographies of Dickens and Jane Austen and so when I saw this in the half price sale in Waterstones, it seemed like a good place to begin my non fiction journey this year.

The Synopsis from Goodreads:
Claire Tomalin’s remarkable and empathic biography, focusing on HG Wells’ early life, offers a new understanding of one of Britain’s most influential writers. From his impoverished childhood in a working-class English family, to his determination to educate himself at any cost, to the serious ill health that dominated his twenties and thirties, and the sudden success of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds which transformed his life and catapulted him to international fame – Claire Tomalin paints a fascinating portrait of a man, a misfit, a socialist, a futurist and a writer whose new and imaginative worlds continue to inspire today.

I knew nothing at all about H G Wells, having only read his most popular works and a couple of his short stories so I was intrigued by the title of this book. How did a writer I only knew from his very early Science Fiction writing change the world?

H G Wells was certainly a very complex character and in many ways, an extremely unpleasant one. He was also incredibly intelligent and hard working.
As always when I read biographies, the most interesting parts for me are the early lives of the subjects. H G Wells overcame many difficulties to become a writer, not the least of which was his mother’s insistence that he become a draper! I really enjoyed the first part of the biography showing how he overcame the difficulties caused by his family life and his ill health and was fascinated by his determination to achieve his ambitions. His capacity for work and learning seems to have been almost boundless.

He was also incredibly selfish and single minded at pursuing his aims and desires and Tomalin shows this side of him very clearly. He was a good son and brother and cared for his parents and supported his brother Frank. However, he appears to have been much less satisfactory as a husband and lover especially towards his wife Jane who even had her name changed by him. He was also a loyal friend and many of the greatest writers and thinkers of the time such as George Bernard Shaw were good friends with him. Tomalin also shows us how his friendships could very quickly go sour if his friends disagreed with him.

He was certainly a visionary and foresaw many of the developments of the twentieth century. His pamphlets and articles arguing for socialist ideals did influence other thinkers and politicians especially Churchill. Tomalin tells us in the final chapter that his work The Rights of Man published in 1940 was one of the sources for the 1948 Declaration of Human rights and it is clear that he was influential in changing society during the first half of the twentieth century.

This was an easy to read and enjoyable book and a worthwhile read for anyone interested in H G Wells.


Author: Janette

Recently retired Ex-Assistant Head of a large primary school in Leicestershire although I seem to be in school teaching quite a bit still.

5 thoughts on “The Young H G Wells – Changing the World by Clare Tomalin”

  1. The first ever science fiction book I read was The Time Machine by HG Wells, he was an amazing writer and visionary. I want to read this for my non fiction challenge too!

  2. He certainly sounds an interesting character (even if one mightn’t like him). Like you, I too have read a few of his fiction writings but from your review I see may be I should look into his nonfiction works as well. The Rights of Man particularly seems interesting.

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