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A History of the Future
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    Bowler, Peter J. 2017. The promise of science in early 20th-century popular literature. Centaurus, Vol. 59, Issue. 3, p. 238.


Book description

In this wide-ranging survey, Peter J. Bowler explores the phenomenon of futurology: predictions about the future development and impact of science and technology on society and culture in the twentieth century. Utilising science fiction, popular science literature and the novels of the literary elite, Bowler highlights contested responses to the potential for revolutionary social change brought about by real and imagined scientific innovations. Charting the effect of social and military developments on attitudes towards innovation in Europe and America, Bowler shows how conflict between the enthusiasm of technocrats and the pessimism of their critics was presented to the public in books, magazines and exhibitions, and on the radio and television. A series of case studies reveals the impact of technologies such as radio, aviation, space exploration and genetics, exploring rivalries between innovators and the often unexpected outcome of their efforts to produce mechanisms and machines that could change the world.


'This is fascinating, wide-ranging and important work, an ambitious attempt to do something it's amazing to think nobody has tried before: to map all the varieties of 'the future' that writers and thinkers have extrapolated over the last dozen decades or so. Professor Bowler expertly sets the terms of the discussion about what the future used to be, and what it might be again.'

Adam Roberts - Royal Holloway, University of London

'This wide-ranging survey of the ways in which technological and scientific futures were envisaged in the first half of the last century astutely challenges easy stereotypes, whether of a widespread cultural pessimism about the threats of technical change or of simplistic optimism about the limitless capacities of scientists to achieve utopia. The result is a fascinating and often surprising book, drawing on an impressive range of popular and specialist materials, offering a new account of how the future once looked.'

Simon Schaffer - University of Cambridge

'This is a wide-ranging book with an engaging combination of fascinating topics. Bowler leads us through twentieth-century literature, science fiction and futurology to discover the imagined futures that never were.'

Sean Johnston - University of Glasgow

'Given his interest in the future scientific and political consequences of eugenics, perhaps it is no surprise that Peter Bowler, a noted historian of biology, has now turned his attention to the topic of futurology more generally. … His discussion of imagined futures built on different systems of air transport is particularly compelling. … Bowler’s chapter on human and social engineering shines with vivid detail and nuanced argument. … Overall, Bowler engagingly documents the birth of many tropes about future technology.'

Wythe Marschall Source: Physics Today

'… Bowler’s work serves as an intriguing starting point for anyone interested in studying predictions for the future made in the first half of the twentieth century. … A History of the Future is clearly an exceedingly well-researched work that would serve as a wonderful index for study …'

Source: The British Society for Literature and Science

'… the subject of this book is futurology in all its forms, with brief mentions of literary futures introduced as needed. Even more than literary texts, … Bowler relies on popular science writing, both in books and in magazines.'

Patrick A. McCarthy Source: Science Fiction Studies

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This listing contains all books and substantial articles consulted, both primary and secondary. It does not include newspaper articles or short pieces in magazines, for which sources are indicated in the footnotes.

Where reprinted editions are cited, the original date of publication (if known) is given in square brackets.

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