It was the third-largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. In the United States alone, over 162 “Bellamy Clubs” sprang up to discuss and propagate the book’s ideas.
Bellamy’s book, gradually planned throughout the 1880s, was completed in 1887 and taken to Boston publisher Benjamin Ticknor, who published a first edition of the novel in January 1888. In its second release, Bellamy’s futuristic novel met with enormous popular success, with more than 400,000 copies sold in the United States alone by the time Bellamy’s follow-up novel, Equality, was published in 1897. Sales topped 532,000 in the USA by the middle of 1939. The book remains in print in multiple editions, with one publisher alone having reissued the title in a printing of 100,000 copies in 1945.
Bellamy’s novel tells the story of a hero figure named Julian West, a young American, who towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up 113 years later. The young man readily finds a guide, Doctor Leete, who shows him around and explains all the advances of this new age, including drastically reduced working hours for people performing menial jobs and almost instantaneous, Internet-like delivery of goods. Everyone retires with full benefits at age 45, and may eat in any of the public kitchens. The productive capacity of the United States is nationally owned, and the goods of society are equally distributed to its citizens. Although Bellamy’s novel did not discuss technology or the economy in detail, commentators frequently compare Looking Backward with actual economic and technological developments.
Bellamy’s ideas somewhat reflect classical Marxism. In chapter 19, for example, he has the new legal system explained. Most civil suits have ended in socialism, while crime has become a medical issue.