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Caesar's Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century (Early Classics of Science Fiction) [Hardcover]

By Ignatius Donnelly (Author)
Our Price $ 55.25  
Retail Value $ 65.00  
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Item Number 93444  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   340
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.94" Width: 5.6" Height: 1.04"
Weight:   1.22 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Dec 4, 2003
Publisher   Wesleyan
ISBN  0819566659  
EAN  9780819566652  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Published in 1890, Caesar's Column is an account of a trip to New York City in 1988 by a visitor from the Swiss colony of Uganda. The great metropolis dazzles with its futuristic technology, but its ostentatious wealth and luxury mask the brutal repression of the laboring classes by their rich bosses. The workers, aided by international terrorists, stage a violent revolt and the narrator flees the devastated city by airship to found an agrarian utopia in Africa.

Fueled by outrage at social conditions, Caesar's Column was the first major dystopian novel in the English language. Its author, Ignatius Donnelly, was the most famous--and controversial--American populist politician of the day, and his book became a huge bestseller and was often compared to such utopian works as Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) and William Morris's News from Nowhere (1890). This Wesleyan edition includes an insightful introduction and notes by Nicholas Ruddick.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Wonderful Edition  Apr 18, 2009
"Cæsar's Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century" by Ignatius Donnelly is the 10th book in the Early Classics of Science Fiction series. "Cæsar's Column" was first published in 1890 and though it is far from a great work, it holds a special place in the history of speculative fiction. The novel deals with a dystopian/utopian future (1988) and draws heavily on the author's own political views. Ignatius Donnelly was a populist politician moving from party to party and switching positions on issues frequently, eventually joining the Republican party and being elected as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota and then to Congress. Donnelly also became known for his writing, as he wrote about such diverse topics as Atlantis, Ragnarok, and the true authorship of Shakespeare's works. Those were all considered non-fiction works though, and after being discredited he wrote "Cæsar's Column", a fictional work, under the pseudonym of Edmund Boisgilbert, M.D., though this was more of a publicity stunt than a real attempt to conceal his identity.

"Cæsar's Column" is an important work in the history of speculative fiction because it is one of the earliest works which brings the ideas of Jules Verne to an American audience, though certainly not with the same level of quality. This work also looks at social Darwinism, and Donnelly's impression of where it will lead the society in the next 100 years. As is a general rule with this series, the quality comes not just with the works being presented, as many of them are far from ideal; but rather it is the supporting documentation which makes them well worth reading. In this case, it is the superb introduction and notes provided by Nicholas Ruddick which make this the ideal edition of this work to read.

"Cæsar's Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century" takes place in the year 1988, mostly in New York City in a society which has decayed and lost its ideals. The narrator for much of the story is Gabriel Welstein, a visitor from the Swiss colony of Uganda, an agricultural utopian society. He has come to the U.S. to bypass the global Wool Ring which has monopolized the commodity, and most of the book is in the form of letters which Gabriel is writing to his brother Heinrich. In the city, Gabriel intervenes to save a beggar, who turns out to be Maximilian Petion, an attorney who is part of a brotherhood (the Brotherhood of Destruction) that is working to overthrow the corrupt ruling class.

Much of the story deals with Donnelly's views on society and politics and in particular on the concept of social Darwinism. He provides a view of future technology which isn't too far off the mark with airships, city streets alight, though with power obtained from the Aurora Borealis instead of electrical power plants. One could say that the televised newspapers are a foreshadowing of the internet as well.

There is some examples of anti-Semitism in the work as well, though as Ruddock discusses in his introduction it is probably not as severe as was the norm at the time, and cites evidence that of all the reviews of the book at the time, not one mentioned Jews or anti-Semitism. He goes on to suggest that Donnelly was concerned with the fate of humanity and not smaller groups of individuals, and that his use of some stereotypes to help the readers identify with larger groups. Indeed, he goes on to mention that Norman Pollack considers Donnelly to be offering anti-anti-Semitism as a solution for anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the reader should be prepared for it and to take it in the context in which it was intended as well as the time in which it was written.

When viewed on its own, "Cæsar's Column" is not a great book, or even a particularly good one. It is long winded at times, the characters are often two dimensional, and Donnelly's views on politics and society are rather heavily forced on the reader. When it is taken into account the novel's historical position as a bridge between Verne and modern speculative fiction, both in terms of time and society, as well as its early examples of dystopia/utopia and social Darwinism, then the book takes on added value. Add to that the excellent treatment it receives from Nicholas Ruddick and it is easily a four-star result, if not a little higher.

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