Looking Backward: 2000-1887, published in the United States in 1888, created an international sensation associated with very few other books in history. The author, Edward Bellamy, although a prolific writer of short stories, essays, and novels, is remembered almost solely for this utopian novel. The premise of the story is that Julian West, a privileged citizen of 1887 Boston, awakes from a 113-year trance-induced sleep to discover that the majority of the world enjoys peace, prosperity, and equality.
Bellamy, a sensitive man keenly aware of the injustices and inequities of nineteenth-century culture, uses Looking Backward to espouse his views on social and economic reform. There is the barest of plots, little character development, and virtually no action. The book consists almost entirely of conversations between West and his hosts that reveal how the "perfect" society works. Despite the literary flaws, the strength of Bellamy's ideas attracted a worldwide audience. Not only his nationalized system of labor and commerce, but also his technological predictions and his attempt to treat women equally stirred great debate. Within a few years after its publication, there were over 160 "Bellamy Clubs" around the United States promoting the Nationalism that Bellamy proposed.
Aligned with the Populist party, the Nationalist movement affected legislation and labor relations until its demise during the Spanish-American War. By 1900, the book had been translated into more than twenty languages and had sold more copies than any other American book except Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was the second book to sell over a million copies. Dozens of other utopian novels followed in its wake, but social commentators continue to rank Looking Backward as second only to Karl Marx's Das Kapital in world influence.