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Year 33 – 1893: Text-Book of Biology by H.G. Wells

Published: London, 1893
2 volumes

Today he’s known for such classic science fiction novels as The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898), so people are often surprised to learn that the first original book-length work published by H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was a textbook.  Wells had studied biology at the Normal School of Science in South Kensington, London under the great T.H. Huxley, on a scholarship for teacher trainees. It was there that he got his start writing fiction in the Science Schools Journal, which he founded and edited himself.

Wells’ early career didn’t go as planned. In fact, he failed his geology exam in 1887, and wouldn’t earn his zoology degree until 1890. Once he had his degree in hand, he began teaching at the University Correspondence College, founded by William Briggs. In 1893 Wells supplemented his income by writing the Text-Book of Biology, which was published as part of the University Correspondence College Tutorial Series — a set of textbooks written for working students who needed to pass the University of London exams. The Text-Book of Biology was a hit and remained in print for 30 years. Wells himself, however, seems not to have thought much of the effort, and referred to it on at least one occasion as “pure hackwork.”

The Libraries’ copy bears a date stamp of May 11, 1893, evidence that MIT purchased the book when it first appeared on the market, well before the author would become known as “The Father of Science Fiction.”

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