“Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain” was the subtitle H. G. Wells gave to his voluminous Experiment in Autobiography, and having got off to an unbearably modest start, he went on to confess that much of his literary output had been “slovenly, haggard and irritated,” as well as “hurried and inadequately revised.” Of the “gray matter of that organized mass of phosphorized fat and connective tissue” which he identified as the “hero” of his autobiography, he noted that its thinking was “slack” and “easily fatigued.” By way of summary, he hypothesized that “If there were brain-shows, as there are cat and dog shows, I doubt if it would get even a third class prize.”

If modesty is a rare trait among world-famous authors, rarer still is the ability— which Wells possessed in abundance—to analyze perceptively...

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