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The Iron Heel (1907)

by Jack London

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Classic Literature. Fiction. Science Fiction. HTML:

The Iron Heel is a dystopian novel by American writer Jack London, first published in 1908. Anthony Meredith, a scholar in about the year 2600 AD (or 419 B.O.M. - the Brotherhood of Man), annotates the "Everhard Manuscript", an account that chronicles the years from 1912 to 1932 when the great "Iron Heel" oligarchy rose to power in the United States.

.… (more)
  1. 20
    Red Star: The First Bolshevik Utopia by Alexander Bogdanov (leigonj)
    leigonj: Both are science fiction written in 1908, inspired by the events of the 1905 Russian Revolution. Both are born of the writings of Marx and Engels.
  2. 10
    News from Nowhere; or, An Epoch of Rest: Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance by William Morris (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Morris's novel could almost read like the future utopia from which London's fictional annotations are written.
  3. 10
    Walkaway by Cory Doctorow (melmore)
    melmore: Both works are (among other things) showcases for the elaboration of political and economic arguments. Both strive to represent the full horror of economic oppression, and what happens when the oppressed resist.
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» See also 56 mentions

English (33)  Esperanto (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
More political than science fiction, originally published in 1907. Describing worker's uprising and problems of class divides and political bribery. Footnotes are the "science fiction" as a future historian (circa 2600) annotates the manuscript (1912 - 1932). The Brotherhood of Man succeeds the Oligarchy who employ thousands in public work, but they still live in poverty, in the new city named Asgard. The main protagonist is a woman who is enlightened by her future husband of the terrible situation many of the poor are living in. They start a revolution and are force to flee while arrests are made. She assumes a false identity and even her husband doesn't recognise her at first. ( )
  AChild | Apr 10, 2023 |
"Did you notice how he began like a lamb—Everhard, I mean, and how quickly he became a roaring lion? He has a splendidly disciplined mind. He would have made a good scientist if his energies had been directed that way." (23)

I knew Jack London wrote a "yellow peril" invasion novel; I had not known that he also wrote a piece of revolutionary science fiction until I was reading Geoffrey Harpham's 1975 essay "Jack London and the Tradition of Superman Socialism." Harpham uses the term "superman socialist" to describe the protagonist of The Iron Heel, Ernest Everhard. According to Harpham, the superman socialist “[m]erg[ed] the vision of Just Society with the idea of the romantic hero” (23). The superman socialist has “scientific, factual bases for his sense of superiority” (24), but he “renounces Nietzschean amorality in favor of the proper use of genius in struggling for a better social order” (25). The superman socialist knows his violence is justified because a better world emerges, no matter who dies to create it; Harpham argues that superman socialism uses the same rhetoric as the forces it opposed, calling it “a barbaric American Kiplingism in which the fit survived and the unfit perished, to nobody’s regret—a view which lent itself to a sanction not only of superman socialism, but of empire and militarism as well” (26). I found the concept very useful in writing about Victorian sf novels featuring Darwinism; it seemed to me that the superman socialist was another form of what I call, drawing on Robert Lifton, the biocrat. But I used the concept so much I really felt I ought to go read The Iron Heel for myself!

I read this before H. G. Wells's two "biocratic" novels, Anticipations and A Modern Utopia, simply because I got ahold of it first, but am writing it up afterwards, which is eminently appropriate, not just because it was published later, but because Anticipations was a direct influence on London. In Anticipations, Wells coined the term "People of the Abyss" to refer to what he considered the lowest classes, those who didn't even labor. London actually used the term as the title of a 1903 memoir he wrote about life in London's East End, and he recycles the term here as well. The form of this book feels a bit Wellsian, too, in that it's told in the form of a book manuscript from the future, one written in the mid-20th century, but not published until the 27th, and it includes footnotes from a 27th-century annotator making clear the 20th-century cultural context to a 27th-century audience. Though actually I don't think Wells wrote one of those "found future manuscript" books until The Shape of Things to Come, which was almost three decades later. (The World Set Free seems like a future history book, but this isn't made explicit, and it also comes after Iron Heel.) It is a format others were using around this time; Henry Lazarus's The English Revolution of the Twentieth Century and Frank Attfield Fawkes's Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe are the two that stick out to me. Did London read these? Maybe he read something like them, or maybe he invented his own take on the idea out of whole cloth. The idea of us reading future annotations aimed at an imaginary future audience is clever, and a neat innovation of London, who in explaining what the 20th century takes for granted, makes it clear what the 27th century does not take for granted.

The whole book is thus supposedly by Avis Everhard, the wife of Ernest Everhard, one of the key participants in a failed socialist uprising; it gives Ernest's life and the uprising from her perspective. There's some neat stuff here, especially Avis's slow radicalization and her as a deep cover agent. But much of the later sections of the novel are told at a remove, so we don't actually live the events along with her, but just hear them summarized in retrospect. As a book, it's basically fine, but it does give good insight into a particular kind of early 20th-century socialist thinking, one that I am attempting to surface (albeit in Britain) in my own project. Ernest is a man who believes that only violence can reject capitalism and bring about socialism, and as Harpham says, the main characters seem to be as disgusted by the lower classes they are supposedly helping as they are by the upper classes they are in opposition to. The "superman socialist" decides who lives and who dies, and if you die in the cause of socialism, the death is justified: "It would have meant […] great loss of life, but no revolutionist hesitates at such things" (220). As my epigraph above highlights, Everhard is not—unlike how Lifton defines the biocrat, and unlike the Samurai of Wells's two utopias—a man of science or medicine, but London is keen to highlight that he thinks like a scientist, but sees with even more clarity, and this is what gives him the moral authority that he needs to commit violence.
1 vote Stevil2001 | May 13, 2022 |
Really glad I was recommended this. I don't think the story is quite as compelling as Brave New World or 1984 but a poignant story and the fact that it was written before even World War 1 is incredible, London was scary accurate in many predictions. A lot of the sentences in this book, particularly from Ernest Everhard, are relevant even today. The format of the book was really compelling and the ending was chilling. I wish I'd paid more attention, to the point where I went back and read the first 10 pages or so and the book made a lot more sense. Scary stuff, but quite good even for today. ( )
  hskey | Feb 27, 2022 |
The Iron Heel by Jack London is considered one of the first modern dystopian novels. Published in 1908, the story paints a picture of a futuristic society that becomes repressive and it is obvious that the author presented this as a warning that if society continued along its current path then this repressive society would be the result. This book highlights his interest in Socialism and his strong leftist leanings.

While I personally did not care for the book, finding it entirely too heavy handed, I can see why it is considered to be influential. George Orwell praised the author and credited him with prophesying the rise of Fascism that was destined to tear the world apart in the 1930s and 40s. This story, although portraying the future, deals with the politics of the time rather than any technical advances as his main character’s focus appears to be on the unequal distribution of wealth and power that leaves the working class struggling for justice and equality.

While Jack London is mostly identified as a writer of adventure novels, this particular book is a sympathetic nod to socialist causes. Although it was unusual for a male author to use a female as his first person narrator, I did appreciate that Jack London did so here. He also appeared quite comfortable pointing fingers at governments, religious organizations and big business and skewering them with a few home truths. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Dec 9, 2021 |
«Ovunque esista una classe dominante, gran parte della morale pubblica ha origine dai suoi interessi e dal suo senso classista di superiorità».


In uno dei racconti di Tu, sanguinosa infanzia di Michele Mari, Conrad dice a Jack London: "lo stile, benedetto ragazzo, lo stile.

Leggendo i libri di London in italiano ovviamente è impossibile giudicare "lo stile", influenzato com'è dal traduttore, ma se c'è una cosa che mi affascina sempre è la grande versatilità di quest'uomo. Riesce a raccontare storie di ogni tipo facendotele vivere come fossero reali. Più volte infatti ho dovuto ricordare che questo è un romanzo e non un saggio. Anche se, come sanno gli estimatori di London, in tutti i suoi romanzi ci sono elementi autobiografici.

Difficile anche commentarlo senza parlare di politica e ideali.
Il libro è un flusso di monologhi per la maggior parte della prima metà. Monologhi che ricordano quelli di altri personaggi di London sugli ideali socialisti. Belli, magari non sempre condivisibili in pieno ma efficaci.

Lui dice che questo è un omaggio a Marx.
Nel bel saggio introduttivo di Mario Picchi si spiega come London credesse in un socialismo romantico e ci credesse soprattutto nei periodi bui, quando era depresso salvo poi comportarsi e pensare in tutt'altro modo quando era lucido.
Viene dipinto come razzista (cosa abbastanza comune a quell'epoca) e seguace dell'evoluzionismo, convinto che il più forte avrebbe prevalso sul più debole.
Insomma, sembrava di facile preda degli entusiasmi del momento.

"È il modo sapiente che fa grande e definitiva l’opera di Jack London, uno scrittore che ben conosce il duplice binario della riflessione critica e dell’invenzione, ed è in grado positivamente di reperire il punto d’incontro, il referente, fra i due momenti che lo coinvolgono."

Questo giusto per capire come leggere questo libro, almeno per me.
Più che una distopia sembra un saggio storico, giusto proseguo di quel "Popolo degli abissi" che in seguito ispirò sullo stesso tema un altro scrittore importante: George Orwell, con il suo Senza un soldo a Parigi e Londra.
Considerando che Il tallone di ferro è stato scritto nel 1908 vengono i brividi per alcune "predizioni" piuttosto realistiche su come sono andate le cose in molti paesi.
Nella seconda parte si fa più movimentato e vengono raccontate le azioni e le lotte rendendo il libro più avvincente, con una parte, "La comune di Chicago", letteralmente densa e inquietante.

La struttura del romanzo, scritto come se si fosse trovato un diario della moglie del protagonista dopo sette secoli, viene corredata di un apparato di note degne di David Foster Wallace dove, a partire dalla "falsa introduzione", il narratore ci spiega quello che nel diario è sottointeso come le informazioni sul periodo storico e i comportamenti civili, la fine che hanno fatto alcuni personaggi, informazioni e spiegazioni varie.
Ecco perché, per le cose raccontate e per questo espediente narrativo, il tutto, a volte, sembra reale.

«Io non credo alle fiamme e allo zolfo dell’inferno; ma in momenti come questo rimpiango la mia miscredenza. No, in momenti come questo io quasi ci credo. Deve esistere per forza un inferno, perché in nessun altro posto voi potrete ricevere una punizione adeguata ai vostri crimini. Fino a quando esisterà gente come voi, l’inferno sarà un’esigenza essenziale del cosmo».



( )
  Atticus06 | Jun 9, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (34 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack Londonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Auerbach, JonathanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lerner, MaxIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ricketts, MikeCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saville, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schugar, JordanNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soar, MattNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trotsky, LeonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zinn, HowardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"At first, this Earth, a stage so gloomed with woe / You almost sicken at the shifting of the scenes. / And yet be patient. Our Playwright may show / In some fifth act what this Wild Drama means."
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It cannot be said that the Everhard Manuscript is an important historical document. To the historian it bristles with errors—not errors of fact, but errors of interpretation. Looking back across the seven centuries that have lapsed since Avis Everhard completed her manuscript, events, and the bearings of events, that were confused and veiled to her, are clear to us. She lacked perspective. She was too close to the events she writes about. Nay, she was merged in the events she has described.
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Classic Literature. Fiction. Science Fiction. HTML:

The Iron Heel is a dystopian novel by American writer Jack London, first published in 1908. Anthony Meredith, a scholar in about the year 2600 AD (or 419 B.O.M. - the Brotherhood of Man), annotates the "Everhard Manuscript", an account that chronicles the years from 1912 to 1932 when the great "Iron Heel" oligarchy rose to power in the United States.

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