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For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs

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July 12, 1939: Perry Nelson is driving along the palisades when his car careens off the road. He awakes in a strange snowy mountain landscape, where a woman rescues him and reveals that the year is now 2086.

263 pages, Hardcover

First published November 28, 2003

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About the author

Robert A. Heinlein

793 books9,109 followers
Works of American science-fiction writer Robert Anson Heinlein include Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

People often call this novelist "the dean of science fiction writers", one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard science fiction."

He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the standards of literary quality of the genre. He was the first science-fiction writer to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s. He was also among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era.

Also wrote under Pen names: Anson McDonald, Lyle Monroe, Caleb Saunders, John Riverside and Simon York.

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5 stars
608 (17%)
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1,180 (34%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 301 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
July 21, 2016
Enjoyed this, but I may need to say that it is best for Heinlein fans, not one of his great works, but appreciable for true followers.

Begun in 1938, (though not published until 2003) this could be one of, if not actually, his earliest work. The discerning reader can find glimpses of his later vision and brilliance amid a fairly minimalistic setting and storyline. At times I had to remind myself that this visionary narrative was written in 1938, other times it was painfully obvious that this was an incomplete work put together after his death.

Still, he shows signs of his later mastery, expounding on ideas of sociology, politics and economics within the framework of a futuristic imagination. Ironically, the master of modern science fiction missed the moon landing by over 100 years! All that to say, if you love Heinlein, you will like this and not want to miss reading.

Profile Image for Jim.
1,128 reviews66 followers
May 30, 2023
Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) was one of the first science fiction authors I read and, by now in my doddering old age, I have read most (but not all) of his novels and short stories, a number of them twice. "Friday," "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," and "Glory Road" are among my favorite RAH books, with "Citizen of the Galaxy," one of the first Heinleins I read, remaining as my favorite Heinlein as well as one of my all-time favorite science fiction books ( "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Starship Troopers," widely regarded as his best novels, are NOT among my favorites of his!).
This book was published in 2004, so, yes, it was published after RAH's death. It was written between 1938 and 1939 and was rejected for publication. Now it is considered Heinlein's first novel. But, as SF author Spider Robinson argues in the Introduction, it is not really a novel. He calls it "a thinly fictionalized lecture series." Sounds boring--and I suppose most readers, including SF fans, would find it so. You can understand why it wasn't published! I give it 3 stars and don't recommend it--except for Robert A. Heinlein fans. Then I would say it's a must-read. Because, again, as Robinson wrote, " The seeds of many of Robert's major novels are clearly visible...The essential core of his entire career is implicit as DNA code buried in the pages of 'For Us, The Living.' " For that reason, anyone with an interest in Heinlein might enjoy delving into this book and see where it all began!
If, for whatever reason, you have never read any books by Heinlein, I would recommend "Citizen of the Galaxy" or "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" or, yes, "Starship Troopers" ( the book is far superior to the movie!).
Profile Image for Stven.
1,253 reviews25 followers
February 16, 2009
Heinlein's unpublished first novel has been rescued from the dustbin, and we easily see why it was never published. There is almost no action in the story, and instead we get pages and pages of lecturing about politics and economics. Of course, as Heinlein fans, we've enjoyed his unorthodox illuminations on politics and economics for decades, but thank goodness he learned to give us more actual STORY than he does in For Us, the Living.

Bump on the head. Mr. Regular Guy wakes up in the future, spends rest of book talking about how surprisingly different 2068 is from 1939. Not the first time a science fiction writer has used the Rip Van Winkle wrinkle.

For the reader in 2009, what makes the comparison interesting is the number of things Heinlein gets wrong. Even while describing the jealousy-free sexual relationships supposedly going on in 2068, the assumptions still embedded in his characters' language demonstrate contradiction after contradiction.

A hundred years after the real-world moon landing, Heinlein's future society hasn't made the jump. Rapid mail delivery occurs by pneumatic tube. Overpopulation has never troubled anyone. Etc.

Also interesting to see how firmly "socialist" Heinlein's political ideas were in this era. In later life he would support the political side designated as "conservative," but apparently his guiding political and economic philosophy was based on the idea that there WAS enough to go around, and the challenge was figuring out how to get people to share it. What shifted were his ideas on how to accomplish this.

An afterword gives some details about Heinlein's early career which are of interest for us, the living fans. And that's basically the audience for this book. It's not a good novel, but for people who've been Heinlein aficionados since their first chance at one of his terrific novels for kids (for me it was Have Space Suit, Will Travel), it's an appreciated chance to glimpse one more facet of the great writer.
Profile Image for Michelle Pfingston.
22 reviews21 followers
January 25, 2014
Ah - future worlds; where there is no poverty or hunger, no sexual jealousy or difficult unions, everyone in every relationship to able to hook up and leave any way they want to, and everything is free and easy! Let us all skip through the perfectly blooming tulips . . . smoking and naked.

The other reviews here really do a great job of describing this book, I don't want to expand on them. So speaking for myself, in spite of the reviews, I struggled through this book a bit obsessively because I loved so much Robert A. Heinlein's other books. Also, the title did me in. It sounded So Good! "For Us, the Living" and "A Comedy of Customs", I am a sociologist and cultural anthropologist so the title suggested mental crack for me.

But being profoundly un-political, this book being about 70% politics, it was an arduous read for me. And secondly, I am woman. A woman over 40, mother of three whom I nursed and this affects a woman. So I scoff at the idea of society as a whole discarding clothes unless weather deemed it necessary. It sounds exactly like something my husband would imagine in the future . . a society where the women run around naked . . OF COURSE. He probably thinks of them as Heinlein did with very fit and perky adornment, or, in the case of Olga, Rubenesque roundness, still very pleasant. I push the the beauty of Rubenesque, but could picture myself walking around naked - except for my perky adornments have long since given up the fight with gravity and are just uncomfortable hanging free. They get in the way, and feel awkward, kinda dangling there. And even though it might be eye candy for my hubby (bless his heart) nevertheless out of my own comfort, I'd still want them strapped, tucked, enfolded, nesting snuggly in some comfortable covering. I can't believe I'm the only one that feels that way. Even for men; yes, some love to free Willy, but I have to imagine that there are others that find the swinging appendages a bit intrusive to your day, and would feel more comfortable in some tighty-whiteys or some such contraption, immodesty be damned. It's more a matter of practicality rather than social norm.

And in this very carefree and la-de-da land, Olga still shaves? What? We're free to be me, but shaven?

*shaking head*
Profile Image for Antonio Rosato.
904 reviews32 followers
January 2, 2019
"Tu hai detto che ieri sera era il 12 luglio 1939. Bene, oggi è il 7 gennaio 2086".
Romanzo d'esordio (e si vede) di Robert Anson Heinlein. Ma più che un romanzo sembra, e lo stesso autore ne ha dato conferma, soltanto una lunga serie di conferenze sui più svariati temi: guerra, economia, religione.
Comunque, quello che colpisce di questo libro, scritto nel 1938 ma pubblicato solo nel 2004, è che l'autore ha previsto gran parte degli avvenimenti futuri: la nascita dell'Unione Europea e dell'Euro e la crisi ideologica/religiosa/economica dell'inizio del XXI secolo.
La trama è carina ed intenza ma è rovinata dal lungo e monotono "pippone" sull'economia del mondo del 2086.
Profile Image for Katerina.
333 reviews146 followers
September 3, 2020
Abbandonato: o non è il suo momento, o semplicemente non fa proprio per me.
Profile Image for Donna Craig.
911 reviews41 followers
March 14, 2022
Heinlein’s first novel, this book wasn’t published until around 2004. It comes across as a series of lectures on his ideal social and governmental structures. The little bits of story thrown in to tie the lectures together and create a setting for them are not satisfying. My main source of interest in this book is the novelty of reading an early Heinlein work.
Profile Image for Rob.
280 reviews20 followers
January 4, 2010
I'll start off by saying this may not be a 'five' for everyone. The style is stilted at times compared to Heinlein's later efforts. There's a reason for this: For Us, the Living is not so much a novel as a Dialogue or series of Dialogues in the Platonic mode (in fact, to me, a veteran of Timaeus & Critias, it reads similarly). So those looking for a 'full' fictional experience will be disappointed. But what is here are two things: Heinlein's penchant for anticipating future events, which is in full force here, and the foundations for the fiction he would write later, particularly those tales in the Future History 'canon.' Also, possibly even less interesting to the casual reader, is Heinlein's economic and cultural vision, the purpose of the dialogue. I'll admit it is not all perfectly thought out, but it is interesting and probably deserves more attention than it gets.

If you want more tales from one of the masters of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, you may wish to give this a miss. If you're interested in Heinlein the Futurist, or Heinlein the social engineer, this is for you.
Profile Image for John.
43 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2009
This is a book that every politician should be required to read. The story is very simple, a man from 1939 (when the book was published) wakes up in 2086. Little explanation is given to how this happened, instead the man starts to look at reasons this future Utopia is superior to his own time. What results is a series of discussions withe experts of 2086 about how the country has turned itself around since 1939, in areas like politics, religion, commerce, sexuality, etc. The story does date itself somewhat, for instance the idea that, by 2086 we are hoping to put a man on the moon very soon, but the factors presented as what was wrong with 1939 are very similar to current day. And the solutions, while not perfect, will definitely get you thinking. Heinlein's Libertarian beliefs are front an center as the reason the country has overcome itself to become this Utopia, basically saying that, as long as it doesn't hurt your fellow man, the government has no business in it.
Profile Image for Jay Bobzin.
6 reviews9 followers
July 16, 2009
An intriguing set of essays wrapped in a story. Great if you like Heinlein, probably dull if you don't.

Start with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Then maybe Stranger in a Strange land. If you've read those, and generally dig Bob's take on life, this is a good quick read densely packed with insight, but light on story.
Profile Image for Norm Davis.
419 reviews6 followers
August 16, 2015

For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs. Robert A. Heinlein 1939

I'm rounding up from one star, this is a disaster, to two stars, it was OK. Reluctantly. Well, it is embarrassing to insult a legend who you came close to worshiping.

Perry, the protagonist tragically dies in an automobile accident in or around 1939 and then wakes up fine in 2038 in someone else's body. Thank Odin Mr. H. didn't write a doctoral thesis on how or why that happened. In good taste, he just didn't explain it. Good for Mr. H.

Perry's taken in by a stray cat collecting kind of loving woman, Diana (had to look it up..., that is so sad I neither remembered or wrote it in my notes). There begins the “Comedy of Customs” where Perry is 'educated' about all things 2038 with touches of plot intimacy, sexuality, plenty of smoking and drinking, and thinly disguised plot lectures you knew were wrong when you unwillingly fell asleep in economics 101. But I digress.

Through the philosophy and doctoral thesis in several fields of science is a thinly veiled story of Perry's growth and acclimation to all the wonders of the quasi perfect future.

That's about it, without telling you... (Massive spoiler) . The Ending.

Here a cut and paste note of one day's reading: “In the last 100 pages Mr. H. has gone from techno-sermons to very long winded techno-sermons that are both very wrong and extremely boring. And patronizing to boot. Something no reader cares to endure. But I will. Out of respect for Mr. H. I hope he's finished tweaking his Marxism and can move on to something not so brain numbing. ”

Here's the kick up to two stars. More if you're primarily interested in Heinlein biographical information. My edition of this book has bookends of long commentaries that are biographical in nature about Mr. Heinlein. This stuff I found very interesting and ultimately changed my mind from never reading another thing Heinlein back to my love of Heinlein.

Sadly it also contains footnotes and end-notes continuing his long winded patronizing thesis or theories on pretty much everything that he didn't finish lecturing you about during the “story”. Economics the most boring of all.

If you're a Heinlein fan, like some folks loved L. Ron Hubbard's great science fiction, pick up this book, read the forwards, prefaces, and all things “not story” and skip the 'story' unless you're kind of interested in the history of his writing and the core of all his book's stories as his ideas that never made it to press... at least not as For Us, the living.
14 reviews1 follower
April 28, 2013
We listened to this book on a long road trip.
This book was found and published long after Heinlein's death, and probably for good reason.
It reads like a lecture in economics(with boobs). There are several books of his that read more like lectures than novels. It's not the political or economic or social philosophies of Heinlein that I object to, not at all. It's chapters and chapters of philosophy and economic theory, that do nothing to serve the plot. In the "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" there are lectures, but for me, the difference is that these lectures support and help drive the plot. The characters are coming up with a mechanism for revolution not author's proxies lecturing for the sake of lecturing. (The professor character in the moon is a harsh mistress is an author proxy, but he also serves the plot!)

There were some bright spots. Set in 2086, the alternate history lectures were interesting. Giggles were had regarding how man hasn't gone to the moon yet but has flying cars. And of course, nudity.
Profile Image for Denis.
Author 1 book19 followers
March 10, 2023
When this was first published, I had just started on my journey down the long long road of scifi literature. I had discovered but a handful of golden age authors by then. Heinlein had been one of the first I had started with and I had read most of his work by the time this was published and suddenly, this dropped from out of nowhere then and there as if it had been tossed through the very fabric of time...

I've since read this several times over the years and it grows on me every time. There is always a new discovery to be found within that foreshadows the works that are yet to come. Though RAH never had it published during his lifetime, he had mined much of it for his 1948 serial, and later in novel form, "Beyond this Horizon" (aka "The Day After Tomorrow") as Anson MacDonald.

This is somewhat, a blueprint or prototype of what he would eventually publish over the next fifty years of his brilliant career.
Profile Image for Shibbie.
36 reviews3 followers
April 12, 2009
I always enjoy books wherein people in the past predict the future and those of us in the present which was once the future can laugh about their predictions. Haha still trying to reach the moon in 2086 haha. Whereas aspects of social structure -- an end to puritism, everyone walking around naked and living by the rule "as long as it doesn't hurt someone else, you can do it" -- are so far past what can be hoped for in the next 70 years it's not even funny. That said the plot line was somewhat interesting at first, but often devolved into just a description of daily future life. Also, the society seems utopian at first and then there's this "oh maybe it's not so utopian after all" moment wherein Perry gets sent to be taught to not be jealous and conform to society's standard that is never properly done. That opportunity seemed missed to me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
419 reviews35 followers
March 30, 2009
I would recommend this only for the Henilein completist or diehard Heinlein fan. It was an early effort and never published and it is easy to see why!

When I first heard about it I said "Wow! A new Heinlein I've never read!" After I read it I was disssappointed. The only reason this got published was it had Heinlein's name on it so the publishers porbably felt many Heinlein fans would grab it, as I indeed did.

I did give it 2 stars because I found a few ideas interesting.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,031 followers
July 6, 2016
I've tried to read this once & listen to it on audio book since I'm a real fan of Heinlein's earlier works. Unfortunately, this reads like one of his later books - preachy & boring. If you had a problem with most of his books after 1970, then this isn't for you.
615 reviews8 followers
November 27, 2020
2020 Re-read:

This was Heinlein’s prescription for what certainly looks like utopia in comparison to the present day - written in 1939. There is no doubt that Heinlein was a once-in-a-generation mind… but having just re-read this, I am also considering the possibility that he was a prophet.

It checks out with me - but it's not my field, so I’m giving it to a poli sci prof friend to see what he thinks of the policy proposals

My mind was repeatedly blown that this was written in 1939 (though I wondered a couple of times about the posthumous editing - there was one incidence where the outcome of WWII seemed to be referred to, for example).

Be aware, there is subversion ahead. Brilliant subversion that everyone will wonder why we didn’t do sooner once it is put into practice. If we don’t lemming ourselves first.

Spider Robinson in the forward calls this “essentially a series of utopian lectures”

“In 1939 most of his ideas were - one is quite unsurprised to learn – wildly ahead of their time, radical, and opposed by powerful societal institutions.“ Me - And they still are today. Sigh.

Favorite phrase: “The unventilated minds of the religious moralists.”

Elements of Heinlein’s society (2086):

- loathing of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism
- Space saving design (a la tiny houses / Japan)
- Nudity
- Computers, Google
- Bastard is an obsolete term
- Stereoscopic pictures
- Government ownership of banks
- Universal basic income (social credit) to equalize production and consumption
- Social/political change more than technological. Better USE of technology
- Equality of the sexes
- Communal child rearing- crèches
- Neither socialism nor capitalism- privately owned industrialism
- Except in the case of an invasion of the United States, war requires a public referendum... by those eligible for military duty. And those who vote “yes” are the first to be drafted.
- Potential inflation due to universal basic income was prevented by controlling prices (by inviting businesses into a common market with low controlled prices (10% below the market at the time of initiation) - of course consumers would support those business, creating incentive for other businesses to join. The government also made up the 10% difference in prices) he addresses goods but not services, but I guess they could be treated in the same fashion? Or do you not get surpluses of services?
- Laws influenced by religion eliminated (a good definition offered at the end of the list: “any law which takes a paternalistic attitude toward the citizen with the purpose of ensuring his moral perfection rather than the purpose of regulating his conduct to prevent him from damaging other persons and, vice versa, prevent others from damaging him”
- Redrafted the constitution (ratified by 37 states after backlash to Nehemiah Scudder). “Most important:” “Every citizen is free to perform any act which does not hamper the equal freedom of another. No law shall forbid the performance of any act, which does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other person. No act shall constitute a violation of a law valid under this provision unless there is such damage, or immediate present danger of such damage resulting from that act.” (And corporations were not people. Nineteen thirty-f'ing-NINE). Direct election of the president. Same comment. House can pass legislation over Senate veto. The president could draft laws and force congressional consideration. The House of Representatives or the president can force a general election at any time (the president by dissolving the house, the house by a vote of no confidence). Laws recodified every 10 years. Those not in clear English could be invalidated on constitutional grounds.
- Helicopter transport
- Moving sidewalks
- Energy from coal without burning
- Superior storage batteries
- Phonetic spelling
- Private sphere, marriage unregulated
- Psychiatric treatment instead of incarceration
- No hitting
- A practical theory of human relations that will enable us to all live happily together
- Eugenics for the insane
- Elimination of sexual jealousy
- Metric system
- United Europe and common currency
- Health service is free (“if medicine hadn’t been socialized”)
- Remote college instruction. Seminar based rather than “cram-and-exam”
- Political system
- Every official makes a full statement of personal finances on taking office, annually, and again on leaving office
- Public service built up as a career of honor (like the military)
- Campaign funds and permissible types of campaigning restricted
- Candidates use the franking privilege jointly, go on the air together, and must refrain from certain forms of emotional campaigning
- Improvement to education renders voters more able to judge (critical analysis skills)
- Heinlein addresses the problem of politically powerful churches in the early 20th century and their unseen corruption vs. public demands for morality (Great sentence for then and now - “Protestations of integrity, combined with tithing and psalm singing, plus a willingness to enact into law the prejudices of the churches, were usually all that the churches required of a candidate.”)
- “The churches [attempt] to use the state to coerce the citizen into complying with a creed which the churches have been unsuccessful in persuading the citizen to accept without coercion. Wherever that occurs you have a condition which inevitably results in the breeding of a powerful underworld which will seize the local government, and frequently, through control of local political machines, seize state and national governments as well.”
- Only those who vote can draw the dividend

Other Notes:

The mural of Demeter is in front of the kitchen - Demeter is the goddess of the harvest. That’s funny

“Why in the world would the government spend all that effort on machinery for an aircraft carrier when its citizens were living in such abominable squalor.“ 1939

“Any government official would know that it is dangerous to everybody to let people be hungry and sick. Why, from the most selfish standpoint possible, if people are sick, they can be the center of epidemic, and anybody knows that a hungry man is not responsible for his actions and may you something dangerous.“ 19f'ing39!!

“Diana, is the United States socialism now?“ “Why no, not if by socialism you mean government ownership of the factories and stores and farms and such. New Zealand has that kind of government and I believe it works pretty well, but I don’t believe it would be suited to the American temperament.“

Oh my god:
Senator Malone was a Midwestern politician, a typical demagogue of my period, if I’m any judge. The recordings show him red-faced and raucous, a man of the people. Malone ran on a platform of blaming everything on Europe and the radicals. He demanded instant payment of the war debts, which were pretty silly since the second European war was already on. He called for the outlaw of the communist party, protection of the American home, and a return to rationalism in education which he defined as readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic and a particularly offensive jingoistic patriotism. He advocated deportation of all aliens, laws to prevent women from holding men’s jobs, and protection of the morals of young. He promised to restore prosperity and promised everyone the ‘American’ standard of living. And he won, by a narrow vote in the electoral college.” Holy shit. With the exception of an Orange face instead of red, he pretty much nails it.

Economic overproduction and trade balances
“It had always been the conventional point of view, especially in the economic beliefs of the conservative party, that a prosperous nation required a favorable trade balance or gold balance as it was formerly called. In simple language that means that a country is best off when it exports more than imports. Phrasing it that way it sounds silly, for it is surely evident that a country that ships out more than it takes in gets poorer every year in terms of real wealth. Nevertheless there was an element of truth in it, a very practical truth at that time. The economic life was organized in such a comical fashion that each year the country produced goods of greater value than the people of the country were able to buy back and use up. This was known as over-production and many were the esoteric nonsensical things said about it. But the situation was that simple. The system of necessity produced more than consumed. Of necessity. You can go into the mathematics of it later. Being an engineer you are bound to see the truth of it, and will probably be vastly amused by it.” “Do you mean to say that that was all there was wrong with business in the United States in my day?” “That was all. And all of your labor troubles, and poverty, and physical suffering were as unnecessary as they were tragic.”

“Anything which is physically possible can be made financially possible, if the people of a state desire it.“ Heinlein’s character asks if this is true... of course it is! We made up the damn system. Why we are letting ourselves be dominated by imaginary things like money and the stock market is an enduring mystery to me. Not really, because of course it benefits the rich and powerful, but goddammit, rise up sheeple! (As always, Heinlein says it better - “[Entreprenuers and industrial leaders] possessed the economic and political power to resist change.” He, like me, does not think it was in their long-term best interest and compares them to Marie Antoinette.

Economic system:
Government fiat vs. bank fiat. It does seem crazy to let the banks create money and make money on it and not allow the govt to do so. (it piles up the national debt. If we let the govt create it - no debt worries)
Overproduction resolutions (the bad ones)
- creation of debt
- Destruction of price values through bankruptcy
- Sending more goods out of the country than taken in
- Outright destruction of goods (ex - war, intentional crop destruction
Favorable trade balance is stupid. Goods are real, money is not. If every country is trying to resolve its overproduction in this way, that creates problems.
- if all purchasing power isn’t spent, it creates a surplus
- Savings translated into production power make the problem worse (“appears as a cost in both cycles”)
- taxes on everyone (like sales tax) don’t increase purchasing power
- “It helps a little to tax the higher bracket incomes but in the long run that inhibits production by striking at a source of capital expansion.”
- “A production cycle creates exactly enough purchasing power for its consumption cycle. If any part of this potential purchasing is not used for consumption but instead is invested in new production, it appears as a cost charge in the new items of production, before it re-appears as new purchasing power. Therefore, it causes a net loss of purchasing power in the earlier cycle. Therefore, an equal amount of new money is required by the country. This money must be a new issue, not borrowed from the banks, for there is no way to pay it back.” (And taxing it back from the citizens destroys future purchasing power.)
- Banks should not be able to create money - they need to turn a profit and interest eats up purchasing power. They will inflate or deflate to make a profit
- “If a country is expanding industrially (US) the govt is obliged to put out more money than it receives in amount equal to new capital investment in order to avoid deflation. This is new money never received in taxes. In fact, the Federal government need not tax at all, except as a regulator measure. It needs NO taxes for revenue. It must NEVER tax as much as it spends or gives away, as long as production is rising.” Is this a thing? Does a famous economist have his name on it? (It does mention in the appendix that the discount method of preventing inflation is usually attributed to C.E. Douglas, a Scottish economist of the early 20th century.)
- if you present a draft for an amount of money to any one of several government warehouses, the bursar will give you an assorted group of basic commodities of weights and standards specified by law. (I think grain standards turned out to be a problem?)
- Foreign exchange is in gold, silver, etc. Govt buys them in the open market.
- “Money in the hands of the Federal government is a scrap of paper and ink.” “We recognize nowadays that Federal taxation is a deflating process, and that Federal government spending is an inflating process. Each process has important secondary effects through which it can be used to regulate for the general welfare.”
- The dividend (universal basic income) assures social security; the discount (govt offer goods at set prices and pays companies the difference) prevents inflation
- Marx erred by equating value to a number of work-hours, when instead value is a subjective measure of worth to an individual (or averaged over a group)
- The dividend ensures high wages and good working conditions; unions are unnecessary. Social security is much less complicated and requires little bureaucracy

OK, so the 8 sheckles left with the bank bother me. I guess they represent the reinvestment in production that is a problem. The bank doesn’t spend them all, it reinvests. Yes, that’s right - anyone saving is a problem - banks just do it the most.

Phew, good to get that off my chest. I am at the end of my rope seeing pieces of paper treated as if they were a potato. Or a car. Not EVEN pieces of paper, but ones and zeros in a machine. And the stock market is worse. Not even a medium of exchange, but a game that measures how people feel... sometimes much to the detriment of the majority of the population.

I don’t change myself to cater to the delusions of others. They don’t like that much.
Sadly, there are no utopian readjustment centers to help them out.
Profile Image for PhebeAnn.
349 reviews14 followers
January 11, 2021
This was fascinating. If you're looking for a novel, though, you're probably going to be disappointed. There's not much plot here. This, Heinlein's first novel, released only recently as a posthumous publication, is basically a political treatise disguised in a very loose plot. That very loose plot is as follows: Perry, an engineer and pilot in the US Navy, gets into a car crash in 1938 and wakes up in 2086... possibly in a different body? (This wasn't clear to me but also isn't that relevant). He is taken in by a beautiful dancer named Diana, who, along with a history professor and psychiatrist, explains the world to Perry - what it is like in 2086 and how it got this way. Basically the entire content of the book is a kind of Socratic dialogue between Perry - who functions as a kind of polymath everyman - and the learned men of 2086.

While the overall set up is pretty eye-roll inducing, the actual ideas are in many cases fascinating for their prescience. Some of the themes are taken up in Heinlein's later work, like the structure of family life changing, and an effective end to monogamy as the social norm.

Perry has trouble casting off the machismo of 1938 and has to be re-educated into not being a jealous asshole. While Perry's sexism is supposed to be antisocial in 2086, Heinlien's own trademark sexism didn't quite manage to evaporate in the characters who were from 2086 and trying to teach Perry not to be sexist. There's still an underlying biological essentialism, and apparently it's fine to sexually objectify your female colleagues and call them by pet names. And hook up with your doctor...

All that said, I've always maintained that Heinlein is sexist but not mysogynistic. He loves women. This book features women surgeons, women rocket scientists, women psychiatrists, etc. Women are shown to be equally capable of, and entitled to, careers, autonomy, cool gadgets, and multiple loves. They just perform a lot of unreciprocated emotional labour and unreciprocated preening for men, although I suppose that hasn't changed all that much for many women.

Aside from Heinlein's usual polyamory and nudism bit, his 2086 world is quite fascinating. He predicts something akin to the Internet, in addition to the less plausible though eternally majestic flying car. One of the most compelling parts was his extended argument for what today is being called Universal Basic Income. In Heinlein's 2086 this is called a heritage payment. Heinlein, through the mouth piece of his characters, makes a passionate argument for UBI, socialized medicine, and an end to the tie between work and morality. He also passionately maintains that this is NOT socialism. His arguments and vision are amazingly pertinent to conversations activists and academics are having today, only everyone still smokes in 2086. His political theorizing and explanation of all the world events between 1938 and 2086 is pretty densely packed, so it's easy to get a bit lost in the weeds, but this was nevertheless a worthwhile read that inspired some great political talks with my spouse (no smokes required)!
Profile Image for Sumant.
240 reviews8 followers
October 6, 2018
This is my first Heinlein book, and although the writing is not the finest but the amount of economic, social and political theory which the author tries to explain us is simply mind bending and astounding.

Some say that Heinlein is living in a fantasy by creating such a book, but that I think is exactly what books are suppose to do, they should be capable enough to make us think, and transport us into some fantastic version of future which makes us more hopeful for the future generations of humanity. And this is exactly what the book does.

The story is simple enough where a young navy engineer named Perry finds himself involved in car accident, which transports him magically almost 200 years into the future, luckily for him he finds himself in a company of women named Diana who not only takes him along but explains him how to live in this completely new and transformed world.

Along with Perry we come to know how the world has changed demographically and actually it has become a better version from the one which Perry came from, people don't have to suffer poverty or disease, but they are supported by the government, and this happened due to the fact that they changed the definition of money.

Although the characters in the book are quite flat, but it's Heinlein's vision about the future which I loved most.

Definitely a good read I give this book 3/5 stars.
Profile Image for John Majerle.
147 reviews1 follower
May 31, 2018
This was Heinlein's first novel, written in 1939. The publishers rejected it and for good reason: it was not very well written. Fortunately for all us Heinlein fans he didn't give up and so we now have many subsequent well written novels of his to enjoy.

So why was is published decades later and why should you read it? If you are a first time author yourself you will have a good example of of what not to do. The book is technically OK, but it needed considerable editing to make it professional quality. On the plus side, many concepts Heinlein developed better in his his later works were first conceived with in this first amateurish attempt. In reading this book you get a sense for where he was headed. For these reasons I have give it 3 stars, not because it was a better than average novel.
Profile Image for Patrick McG.
179 reviews3 followers
June 26, 2021
I can see why this didn't get published until long after it's composition in 1939. It's protagonist-- for reasons the book never explains gets mysteriously transported from that year to 2087 where he engages a series of socratic dialogues on sexual politics, political history, and monetary policy--oh so much monetary policy!!-- and he has sex with two different ladies as his reward for becoming less sexually possessive (?). Writing predictions about the future in 1939 is one of those projects doomed to be obsolete by the end of the year, and there's not enough story here for it to stand up independent of its predictions.

I'd be interested to hear what an economist has to say about the monetary policy that's in this book, and I think it's an interesting document for how Heinlein was reacting to the great depression and the looming second world war, but it's not really a very good book.
Profile Image for Syl.
83 reviews5 followers
June 2, 2022
If you like Heinlein's style of writing, this is an excellent read. Written in 1938, and just recently published, it's his take on a possible 21st century future. Some things in the book are eeriely close to things happening today.
Profile Image for Booker.
42 reviews4 followers
August 6, 2017
To be fair, I am not nearly so full of vitriol with regard to this book compared to some of the other bad books I've read, such as Scalzi's Old Man's War or Atwood's Handmaid's Tale.

However, to describe it as a novel, a true novel, is incorrect, since its plot is flimsy at best and the characterization for characters is so incredibly weak, even compared to many stories dealing more with societies than a specific character. It's instead setup for the author preaching at the reader some ideas, but so blatant that it's frustrating or annoying instead of engaging.

1. Style and Presentation
In the introduction, it's noted that this book was something published posthumously, that Heinlein didn't publish it and it shows, especially since there was also very little editing. While Heinlein's writing flows alright to some extent in some areas, this truly shows as the first major work of someone who's quite inexperienced and the lack of editing is part of that, especially since good editors can help greatly.

2. A lack of story
The story, as many have noted, is severely lacking. It's about a man flung into the far future and him trying to play catch-up with history. However, it's just this man learning the history of the United States up to that point. What would have been more interesting would have been seeing the actual wars and politics of those eras, through the eyes of people experiencing them.

Instead, we get a bunch of dry lectures. And, while some have compared this issue to Plato's dialogues, I found Plato's dialogues to be more engaging since it dealt with timeless examples of politics and logic and theology with minds who were brilliant and of their time, whereas this book has the problem of these characters not being particularly intelligent and getting half their information wrong at best.

It is quite possible for characters who are engaging and lack the worldview of the readers, while still being compelling. A good example of this would be many of the viewpoints in A Song of Ice and Fire, since Westeros is quite sexist and a feudal society, but because the characters feel like people, the readers can still relate to them while thinking some of their ideas are wrong.

3. Sexuality
Thing is, I don't mind sexuality in any sort of media. Sexuality is a part of life and I'm open about being bisexual when the topic comes up about personal tastes and nature. However, how it's handled in this story is on the bizarre at best side.

They go into a discussion of sexual evolution, but my issue with the free love paradise and lack of jealousy and envy is thus- a hundred years of socialization and cultural changes cannot supersede millions of years of evolution so quickly. While one can make the evolutionary argument that humans aren't inherently monogamous, since all of our close ape relatives practice some variation of polygamy, to say that jealousy is entirely against human nature is incorrect.

And, from what I've heard about the incest things of Time Enough For Love, Heinlein runs into the same problem, albeit relating to human wiring against incest. It instead acts as if humans are entirely blank slates/tabula rosa, shaped by their culture and environment. To be fair, I cannot comment about that story entirely since I've not read it, but if it is a recurring issue in his stories, it's a frustrating one. Humans may not be bound entirely to biology, as the nature of sentience implies the ability to go beyond one's mere animal self- to fight and fuck- but it still exists to some extent.

4. Characterization
The only character who truly has character would be Perry. Now, he's our main character and viewpoint character, so more development makes sense, but the character strikes me as quite annoying.

5. Misreading Trends and Wrong Information
Much of this is quite quaint, since this was written in 1939 and, thus, many of his guesses are wrong. However, some of these are outright strange, given the time and political moves made, such as the United States completely side-stepping World War II and the claim that modern wars are caused merely through trade balance issues.

It's also quite quaint that he thought eugenics would work like that. Or how he thinks this story's economic system would work so easily. Problem is, you'll never change that, though a social species, humans have many individuals who are total bastards, or greedy, or what have you.

6. The Problems of Utopia
Others have noted that the story is about a utopia and the text itself makes a comment about it not being utopia. Thing is, the US of the story is clearly a utopia. However, utopia is creepy because nothing is perfect. It's a sanitized world where everyone agrees with everyone, where there aren't greedy assholes and where everyone completely goes along with everything.

There's hope, and then there's utopia. And utopia leaves the niggling feeling in the back of your mind that there's a genocide going on, that it's too good to be true. Because it is too good to be true. Are you telling me nobody has to use violence in self-defense anymore? That police never have to deal with someone who just doesn't care, like a sociopath? That there aren't greedy people? That children can somehow manage their own affairs with their own money? That there aren't abusive pricks when it comes to their children?

The notion that unions are entirely unnecessary is also quite amusing, since I'm part of a union and, believe me, the shit people try to get away with that violates contracts... Well, to say they're unnecessary ignores that some people don't care.

Not to mention the same problem of all of these is the presumption that these different groups do not have conflicting needs. Problem is, that's why these various conflicts in society exist between different factions- they have different needs, or different opinions on what meets the needs of a given person or group of people. It also presumes incredible good intentions when the reality of the world is not so rosy. At the end of the day, it's too sweet. It's too good. It makes you search for the underbelly, that there's something wrong.

So much of the setup bothered me for that reason, since there are so many conflicting ideas in this world and even people who mostly agree still have disagreements. You cannot have millions and millions of people in a country with multiple regional subcultures just agreeing so easily with some of these notions, especially when they run counter to human nature. Humans are a social species, true, but altruism has its limits and when a person's too altruistic, it's often the marker of some severe deficiency. It's often a sign of abuse, where the person's completely subsumed their own desires and were taught their wants and needs were unimportant and that they mean nothing if they aren't constantly giving. But that's no way to live, because that person will give and give and give, and often never gets anything in return, especially since certain types will prey upon them. Even if they know that logically, abuse victims will still do such actions because of how hard it is to work someone out of those mental traps.

This is part of why dystopias exist- they are a deconstruction of utopian ideals. Whether or not they work as stories or are setting up strawmen that could not exist in the context given is another matter entirely, but a dystopia story is fundamentally saying that such utopian ideals aren't utopias at all, but instead hide their darkness. And the good dystopias are realistic enough to know that it's not one hundred percent "let's eat children and rape puppies and have spikes on everything," instead knowing that people, even when wrong, generally believe what they're doing is either good or a lesser evil for the greater good.
Profile Image for Dawn.
126 reviews19 followers
May 20, 2015
I'm enough of a Heinlein fan to snatch this up when I saw it (it's been 10 years--how did I miss it?). I think Spider Robinson is correct in calling it a proto-novel, as it is truly a series of essays--some rather dense, especially the economic ones--set in a story framework. For me, the interest was the predictions of the future from a 1938/39 standpoint. I was amused (?) he has Edward of Windsor dying in 1970 when the man actually did die in 1972, but otherwise most of his predictions are bunk. No real space flight or a man on the moon until 2089? And he was plainly a fan of the simplified spelling movement, something Perry doesn't comment on (I would have).

But proto-novel because you can see elements of so many of his other works: limited voting based on military service, no nudity taboo, what we would call free love, hints of polyamory, the preference for a kilt, a society where one is expected to live in harmony with your neighbors and doing otherwise is not only labeled "anti-social" or "atavist" but may find you banished from polite society to a literal Coventry, even the concept of a future history. Even the greeting "Can I do you a service" or even simply "service" can be found in some of the later books.

As for the framing story, some of it is fairly choppy and I would have liked a little more character development or something, especially near the end, when Perry finds his vocation in this new world. Although I really did like the private sphere/public sphere part, where your personal behavior goes unremarked--no gossip columnists or paparazzi!--and even in public, you can declare "private sphere!" and not only do the cameras turn off, no one will report you kissed your SO. (sadly, I don't think that's something we will ever develop in ourselves)

This is not a casual pick up novel but really is meant for people with an interest in past predictions of the future, serious Heinlein fans, and those with a familiarity with his works and an interest in origins and development. Do read the introduction and afterword, too.
Profile Image for M.E. Kinkade.
Author 2 books19 followers
October 6, 2015
As a novel, this book is pretty weak. But as a literary oddity (Heinlein's never-before-published first work) and as a font of ideas, it's incredible.
First, why it's a crummy novel: there's not much of a story; many of the characters are sketches; there are long stretches without any action; and characters are unrealistically accepting of bizarre things. I mean surely you'd ask some questions if the man you just met claimed he was from 150 years ago?
But if characters did bother with such fundamental questions, we would miss out on Heinlein's Tour of the Future Wonders. Which is what most of the book feels like--a showcase of an ideal future, minus robot dogs but with large doses of nudity and acceptance of casual sex.
Heinlein had some really interesting, refreshing ideas for science fiction, particularly when you remember the book was written in 1938. In many ways, he was rather clear-sighted. In others, he would be terribly disappointed in our cultural failure to progress. I for one am looking forward to having my own personal helicopter/jet.
Perhaps the funniest thing Is what Heinlein thought we wouldn't have accomplished by 2086--landing on the moon, a feat Heinlein would see managed a mere 30 years later. (How awesome it must have been for him to watch the moon landing!)
However, if Heinlein were to pop back in, Wayne's World-style, I think he'd be disturbed by the fetishization of the Kardashian family's goings-on; he'd be quite disappointed with our economics; and disgruntled by the populaces' ongoing appreciation for clothing. Ah well.
"For Us, The Living" is a lovely jaunt down what-if road, but only if you're up for contemplation. Seek compelling storylines elsewhere.
Profile Image for Tim.
94 reviews13 followers
July 5, 2013
This is Heinlein's earliest work (although unpublished until recently). It's interesting in that this was written around the start of WWII, so his alternate history reads very odd at times. So, the whole of WWII is different and man hasn't landed on the moon. You can see the seeds of later works in this one, most notably Nehemiah Scudder from Revolt in 2100 (although the dates are different from that book). He's basically the same character in both books (and as mentioned in other books of his as well).

This book doesn't really have much of a plot at all. A guy from 1939 ends up in the far future and has to deal with the changes in the society. That's about it. Some of the customs are interesting (and I wouldn't mind if they were true now), like the concept of public and private spheres. By custom, no one intrudes on another's private sphere. An implication of this is that public figures' private lives are just that, private. It can be very preachy at times, like in his discussion of economics and how our economic system doesn't work (and it attempts to prove that it doesn't). This kind of thing is somewhat interesting but can be tedious.

All told, I wouldn't recommend it to any but Heinlein fans.
Profile Image for John Bruni.
Author 56 books63 followers
May 29, 2014
This is actually Heinlein's first novel, but it wasn't published until nearly two decades after his death. It's very interesting to see how his work has progressed, and this novel in particular has just about everything in it that would be his life's work as a writer. He's my favorite SF writer mostly because of his progressive views. Even by today's standards, he's pretty progressive. There is a great deal of love and truth in his books, and this is no exception. He was also very good at predicting things, such as Hitler's death by suicide and the formation of the EU. Granted, he got a few things wrong, like the US managing to stay out of WWII and the fact that in the future, people still listen to music primarily on records, but still, not bad. My only issue with this book is that it's too much of a lecture on the way things should be. Heinlein was clearly frustrated with the backwards way of life back then, and he wanted to do his best to change it. What resulted was something that looks more like a document than a story. He would become much better with his didactic storytelling later in life, but this book has much more in common with the old philosophical method of using a dialogue between two characters to get a point across. If you can get past this, though, you'll love this book. It's proof that Heinlein has always been a great man with great thoughts.
5 reviews3 followers
July 28, 2011
What I like about this book is the economic theory. I've read a lot of science fiction, and I love it. This has some future speculation that is more or less brilliant, as far as predicting technology goes, though it feels a little antique because most of the stuff he was pie-in-the-sky fantasizing about came off in a slightly different direction. But as science fiction, well, eh. As fantasy, well, eh. I can't wait for my rocket-gyro-car, whatever that is! The author has a maybe-we-can-all-just-get-along utopian dream which didn't address issues of fraud, and is wildly optimistic about how much compassion people are willing to expend misfits. In my opinion. though seriously, I am totally willing to be the one to say "it's a one in a million chance, but it might just work!"

I haven't read this with my eyeballs, I had an audio book version, so I had to take some of the math on faith. Yes, math. It was very simple, but the economic story of investment, production, supply, demand and redistribution of wealth, even in it's simplest case of only one company with one product... Let's just say I don't know if I've ever done any math problems out loud and seeing would have been more reassuring than just listening to it.
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