"The Hobbit" is, very simply put, the adventure of Bilbo Baggins's life.
Since I am not a Middle Earth geek (just a plain old movie-watcher), my approach to this book wasn't very much focused on how its events reflected on the future of this Universe (also because I don't remember much from the "Lord of the Rings" films).
Basically, Bilbo is asked to join a quest along with thirteen dwarfs and Gandalf, across the Middle Earth. As a hobbit, he lives a very placid life, which is why he finds it hard to abandon his cozy hobbit-hole to embark on this adventure.
Meet Thorin Oakenshield [whippin' his hair]
Hot, isn't he? A little too tiny for my taste, but undoubtedly handsome. He is the heir to the late King under the Mountain, Thror, his grandfather. His homeland was taken away from him (and the other dwarfs who accompany him) by a bloodthirsty and greedy dragon named Smaug, who attacked Erebor, slaughtering most of its inhabitants, occupying it and therefore claiming the priceless treasure inside.
Now, it's up to Thorin and his companions (including Bilbo) to defeat Smaug and return to their rightful land.
I must say, even though I enjoyed the story, the book was disappointingly dull... The pace only picked up at about 60%. That is why I, in this particular case, prefer the films I've seen so far ("An Unexpected Journey" and "The Desolation of Smaug") to the book. I am looking forward to the final movie of the trilogy, "The Battle of the Five Armies".