The War of the Worlds Book Summary - The War of the Worlds Book explained in key points
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The War of the Worlds summary

H.G. Wells

Immerse Yourself in a Visionary Tale of Extraterrestrial Conflict

4.6 (88 ratings)
21 mins
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    The War of the Worlds
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    First shots are fired

    The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed man, alive in the early years of the twentieth century, looking back upon events that began in England in the summer of 1894. He starts by explaining what science, at that point, knew about Mars.

    Science knew that Mars orbited the sun at a distance of 140 million miles, receiving only a fraction of the sun’s warmth. Its atmosphere, thinner than Earth’s, could barely sustain life, with shrinking oceans and seasonal snow caps. 

    The unnamed narrator then goes on to say that humans assumed any life on the red planet would be simple, and would likely welcome any missionary visits from Earth. The reality, however, proved far more ominous. The Martians were in fact advanced beyond humans’ imagination, and they looked upon our world with cool, calculating, dispassionate eyes.

    The Martians faced a dire predicament – exhaustion of resources. This necessity sharpened their minds, driving them to seek salvation on our fertile planet, a mere 35 million miles away. They reached us by firing a series of five capsules from a giant gun aimed at Earth. This explosive activity on the surface of Mars was observed by astronomers, who could not identify the true nature of what they were seeing. Humanity remained oblivious to the impending danger.

    The arrival of the first Martian capsule on Earth, concealed within a fiery streak across the sky, ignited a flurry of speculation and fear. Its impact near the English town of Woking signaled the beginning of a harrowing ordeal. The capsule had embedded itself deep in the soil. As onlookers gathered around the hole, everyone was unaware of the horrors contained within. 

    Sounds, including persistent hammering, emerged from the hole. The creatures seemed to be building or repairing something. One of the astronomers, Ogilvy, cautiously approached. His curiosity quickly turned to dread as he beheld the unearthly spectacle emerging from the cylinder. They were creatures unlike anything terrestrial, grotesque yet undeniably intelligent. It was assumed that Earth’s gravitational force, far stronger than that of Mars, would limit the creatures’ strength and mobility on our planet.

    Humans continued to underestimate the threat the aliens posed until communication with the Martians swiftly turned disastrous. A delegation bearing a white flag was met with a deadly display of Martian technology – a searing heat ray emerged from the hole and decimated everything that caught its eye. The beam incinerated flesh, melted metal, and set fire to trees and buildings. Witnessing the devastation firsthand, survivors fled in terror. The war had begun.

    ANALYSIS

    This is a good time to pause the story and to take a look at the interesting set-up the author has laid out. H.G. Wells is rightfully considered one of the godfathers of science fiction, with The War of the Worlds being one of the first narratives to consider the idea of invaders from outer space. What makes the story impressive, even today, is that Wells treats the premise with deadly seriousness, really trying to consider how it could plausibly happen and what it would be like for people on the ground.

    And while it can be enjoyed as a simple sci-fi horror story, scholars and critics have been digging deeper ever since it was published over a hundred years ago. Wells frequently published academic essays and was always keeping himself abreast of the latest scientific discoveries. In the years leading up to The War of the Worlds, astronomers were continuing to examine Mars through their telescopes and noticing strange lights and what looked like channels on the surface of the planet.

    Wells used these findings to fuel his imagination, but he was also interested in how the story reflected upon humanity’s own worst impulses. Hadn’t certain human-led empires tried to colonize foreign lands after they ran low on resources? Hadn’t people with advanced technology used their ingenuity to conquer Indigenous people in places they’d colonized? The narrative even refers to the fact that Europeans completely decimated the tribes of Tasmania in the mid-nineteenth century.

    Wells is able to do this by framing the story as the recollections of a man who many agree is a thinly veiled stand-in for Wells himself. By having the narrator look back on events from the perspective of the post-war period, he’s able to drop in some hints of what’s happened and what humans have learned since the war ended. One lesson seems to be a reconsideration of humanity’s tendency toward imperialism and colonialism.  

    To put it another way, this story  can be seen as a cautionary tale. The annihilation of species and cultures should prompt reflection on our own capacity for mercy. If we, in our relentless pursuit of progress, have wrought such devastation, can we fault the Martians for waging war for self-preservation?

    With that in mind, let’s see how this tale unfolds.

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    What is The War of the Worlds about?

    The War of the Worlds (1898) tells the classic story of what happened when a series of mysterious cylinders landed in rural English villages at the end of the nineteenth century. What starts as a curious anomaly becomes a horrific tale of intergalactic invasion that has thrilled readers for over a hundred years.

    The War of the Worlds Review

    The War of the Worlds (1898) by H.G. Wells is a thrilling science fiction novel that is definitely worth reading. Here's why this book is special and interesting:

    • It offers a gripping portrayal of an alien invasion, keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they follow the protagonist's intense struggle for survival.
    • Through its detailed and imaginative descriptions, the book vividly depicts the destructive power of the Martians, making the story both eerie and captivating.
    • Exploring themes of imperialism and human vulnerability, the novel raises thought-provoking questions about humanity's place in the universe, ensuring a meaningful reading experience.

    Who should read The War of the Worlds?

    • Fans of classic sci-fi
    • Anyone interested in literary history
    • Visitors from Mars

    About the Author

    H.G. Wells was a popular turn-of-the-century author of over 50 books and numerous short stories and essays. He is considered one of the pioneers of the science fiction genre, having written such books as The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Invisible Man.

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    The War of the Worlds FAQs 

    What is the main message of The War of the Worlds?

    The main message of The War of the Worlds is the vulnerability of humanity in the face of a superior alien force.

    How long does it take to read The War of the Worlds?

    The reading time for The War of the Worlds varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The War of the Worlds a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The War of the Worlds is a gripping sci-fi classic that explores the themes of survival and the unknown. It is definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of The War of the Worlds?

    The author of The War of the Worlds is H.G. Wells.

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