Herbert Wells

There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents, and only one for birthday presents, you know.
Lewis Carroll

Herbert George Wells (1866–1946)
Herbert George Wells (1866–1946)

Herbert George Wells (1866–1946) is an internationally famous English author, and a prolific writer in many genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary, best known however for his work in the science fiction genre. Wells is often referred to as The Father of Science Fiction. Everybody knows his The Time MachineThe War of the WorldsThe Invisible ManThe Island of Doctor Moreau, etc.

Approaching the end of his life, in 1938, Wells published a book of essays, called World Brain (some of the essays were first presented with great success as speeches in 1937), which he later on described as a book quite bold and uncompromising in substance, but still with a distinctly propitiatory manner. In several instances throughout the book, Wells presents his idea of a universal, evolving encyclopedia, that would help people become better-informed citizens of the world.

The essay The Brain Organization of the Modern World lays out Wells’s vision for …a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared. Wells felt that technological advances, such as microfilm, could be used towards this end so that any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine any book, any document, in an exact replica.

In the essay, titled The World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia (see the essay) Wells explains how then-current encyclopedias failed to adapt to both the growing increase in recorded knowledge and the expansion of people requiring information that was accurate and readily accessible. Wells asserted the need for an entirely new world organ, that should be created for the collection, organization, and release of knowledge. This he called the Permanent World Encyclopedia, and it would include everything from the practical needs of society to general, global education. In addition, he explained the importance of workers whose job it would be to continually update and maintain this index of knowledge.

Admittedly, Wells was a writer, not a technical genius, so he couldn’t imagine what could be the technological base of such a World Encyclopedia. According to him, micro-photography would also be vital, as it could provide a visual record of the knowledge it contains.