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Old 10-01-2010, 09:10 PM
1,883 posts, read 2,670,617 times
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The bolded part below is a review I wrote for an online bookstore.After writing it to vent some frustration as such disappointment in the book,I felt that since I would not get any feedback to the questions there that I would post it here and see what responses I might get from those that had higher opinions of the book (or the same).Rather than rewrite the review in an attempt to pretend it was an original CD post,I will simply copy it here in toto.

First,a caveat.I read the Penguin Classics edition by Paul Turner,but unless he completely rewrote the book I do not see that a poor translation did much damage to it.I finished reading this amazed that people consider this a classic and give it more than 2 stars.This is one of the least entertaining and least worthwhile ( two different criteria) books I have ever read.In terms of expectations vs results,this ranks as THE biggest disappointment I have ever encountered in reading a book,bar none.Not even a close second place.The book fails in so many ways.

First,in focus and substance.Whereas in the other "utopian" book,Lost Horizon by James Hilton,the intro and the epilogue take up 21 pages of the book and the actual story about Shangri-La constitutes 162 pages (in my edition),Utopia spends 39 pages introducing the narrator and setting up the narration,and then delivers a whopping 64 pages of actual content on the society and world of Utopia.And most of this is spent trying to convince the reader of what a wonderful and intelligent person Raphael the narrator is. "My dear Raphael,you're obviously not interested in money or power,and I couldn't respect you more if you were the greatest king on earth.....And you've so much theoretical knowledge,and so much practical experience,that either of them alone would be enough to make you an ideal member of any privy counsel" Geez!

Second,the book fails as entertaining reading.There is nothing in the way of a story here.It is not much more than one long dry narrative that would embarrass the dullest college professor marking time until retirement age.A CIA report on the life and culture of Utopia would be more riveting and entertaining.There are no characters and no storyline.It is nothing but a continual litany of "they do this" and "they do that". " They don't think much of pleasures like that..". "They attach great value to special natural gifts...".They,they,they.You begin to get an idea of what it would have been like to be in the class of the supremely boring ghostly professor from the Harry Potter books.

Last,if the book did nothing else than present societal ideas that possessed merit,it might work.But while it does contain some,such as the scorn of worldly wealth,it contains others than any sane person would abhor and reject.The book is not so much about a communistic lifestyle as life under a totalitarian government.I am dumbfounded that anyone could give high marks to a book that suggested such things as:

1) Slavery as punishment for even misdemeanor crimes.( yes,slavery in Utopia,state sponsored)Most crimes,in fact,are punished by slavery.
2)The abolishment of most individual rights.What kind of work you are trained to do,how much education you receive,where you live to do your work,etc,etc,are decided by the state on the basis of what is the best way for you to serve the state.
3)Unauthorized travel around the country is forbidden.You must get permission to travel anywhere outside your hometown,and are told where you can go and when you must return.The first offense is punishable by public humiliation and a downward demotion in society.The second offense of the terrible crime of unauthorized travel is punished by slavery.Yes,slavery.
4)Choosing to eat your meals at home instead of communally with the entire town is regarded as suspect behavior not befitting a properly indoctrinated Utopian.
4)Utopia has police that go around to homes making sure the locals are not whiling away their time in such unproductive pursuits as having a beer on the back porch after work.In Utopia,you are expected to spend your hours not working for the state in such endeavors as attending lectures given by the state about how to be a better member of society.To quote from the book,"Everyone has his eye on you,so you're practically forced to get on with your job,and make some proper use of your spare time". Oh yeah,Utopia indeed!
5) Encouraging invalid people to accept euthanasia.To simply quote from the book, " Let's face it.You'll never be able to live a normal life.You're just a nuisance to other people and a burden to yourself-in fact you're really leading a sort of posthumous existence.So why go on feeding germs?Since your life's a misery to you,why hesitate to die?". This,by the way,are the official priests and government officials visiting the invalid in an attempt to encourage them to accept euthanasia.
6)Adultery is a major crime punishable by deliberately tortuous slavery.
7)Mentally deficient and retarded people are to be looked after by those that find them amusing entertainment,on the basis that if you don't see them as being of at least entertainment value,you won't look after them kindly.

I could go on,but you get the point.And yet this is a book regarded as a classic for setting the standard of a perfect society.One has to wonder,have those that think this about this book actually even READ the book?

So,am I just missing something about this book?How is this considered as a classic?
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Old 10-01-2010, 10:18 PM
Location: 30-40°N 90-100°W
13,856 posts, read 23,984,846 times
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It's not like a novel so some of the things you might be expecting from good fiction are probably not even intended to be in it. It's largely a thought experiment in print.

There's debate about whether Utopia was intended to be ideal or whether it was intended to be satirical. It might even be a mix of both. The "Utopian prayer" I remember, it was like "if I'm praying to the wrong God reveal to me what the right God is" and some other equivocations, struck me as humorous or at least not serious. However I think in the world More lived punishing criminals by slavery would probably be more humane than they kind of tortures or killings they did punish them.

Its significance is also partly due to its age and who wrote it. For all his great qualities Thomas More was a staunchly Catholic man who, well before Anne Boleyn entered the picture, deplored the rise of Protestantism in Europe. That, even in a fictional context, he considered things like freedom of religion and the virtuousness of pagans is intriguing. It's also an example of "world-building" that is so significant in Science Fiction and Fantasy. More had a Utopian alphabet, system of government, etc. So it's not necessarily that it's a great book, but it is an important book that's an interesting window in the world of the Renaissance as it played out in England.
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