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Utopia

Utopia

Written by Sir Thomas More

Narrated by Simon Prebble


Utopia

Written by Sir Thomas More

Narrated by Simon Prebble

ratings:
4/5 (32 ratings)
Length:
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 9, 2011
ISBN:
9781452671215
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Sir Thomas More's Utopia has spurred debate, reflection, and critical thinking since its original publication in the sixteenth century. More's fictional island of Utopia provides an exploration of issues that shook him and his contemporaries and that continue to be problematic in the modern day. The details of More's utopian society, such as the permissibility of euthanasia and comments on chastity in the priesthood, combine with proposals of coexisting varied religions to put forth a work that incorporates the totality of More's religious, sociological, and philosophical talents.



This version of Utopia is the translation by Bishop Gilbert Burnet.
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 9, 2011
ISBN:
9781452671215
Format:
Audiobook


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What people think about Utopia

3.8
32 ratings / 31 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    I loved the dialogue in book 1; Raphael is really quite woke. While the structure of Utopia itself was interesting, I would have rather liked a story rather than a textbook explanation. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable.
  • (3/5)
    Utopia describes a different Commonwealth lifestyle. Would this lead to happiness? It's tough to say. Read it and see what you think.
  • (5/5)
    One of the classic that has withstood the critics throughout the years. It was written in 1516. The work was written in Latin and it was published in Louvain (present-day Belgium). Utopia is a work of satire, indirectly criticizing Europe's political corruption and religious hypocrisy. Many believe it may had been a major influence of the Protestant Reformation which begun the following year in 1517. Many later works has been based upon it.
  • (5/5)
    Written about 1515 or 1516 and worth reading see pages 93 at bottom e.g. rich managing selfishly and 95 last para eg However, there are many things in the commonwealth of utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.He of course was beheaded and later made a Saint.
  • (4/5)
    An easy, reasonable quick read. More has some interesting communist ideas, infused with his version of Christianity and agrarianism. Many of his critiques about then-contemporary English/European society are still quite applicable.
  • (4/5)
    The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Giles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Jerome Busleiden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of the Utopian alphabet and its poetry. It is a great book that allows one to think about human nature. Utopia itself is an imaginary place that is nonexistent. Many have wondered over the years why More even wrote it. I forces one to consider that if the government of a place allows circumstances to occur that remove mans ability to take care of basic needs on a just and right way, should they be punished when they achieve it by breaking their laws?
  • (3/5)
    Interesting to read. I liked seeing the perspective of some issues in More's time.
  • (4/5)
    The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Giles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Jerome Busleiden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of the Utopian alphabet and its poetry. It is a great book that allows one to think about human nature. Utopia itself is an imaginary place that is nonexistent. Many have wondered over the years why More even wrote it. I forces one to consider that if the government of a place allows circumstances to occur that remove mans ability to take care of basic needs on a just and right way, should they be punished when they achieve it by breaking their laws?
  • (3/5)
    Thomas More's Utopia is nearly five centuries old yet it's still quite relevant and poignant today. It's somewhere between a fictional travelogue and a philosophical political treatise. I found it especially interesting that many of the complaints presented still ring true 500 years later. The sixteenth century writing can be a little dry at times but the narrative style and presentation are readily accessible and sometimes rather humorous.As I dove into this book I knew very little about it other than it was supposed to be More's outline of the "perfect city/state." Interestingly (as pointed out in some of the notes and introduction I read), the word "Utopia" is derived from Greek words and means both "good place land" and "no place land" simultaneously. So strangely it suggests that this is both a "good place" and that it doesn't (or can't) exist. That paradox was an interesting starting point for me as I read.The book is divided into two parts. The first "book" starts with letters between More and other real-life characters. This epistolary method of writing was quite common especially when trying to frame the reality of the situation. The letters work to introduce the characters and discussion that follows and to emphasize the significance of the information we are about to read. It also serves to introduce us to a character named Raphael who has apparently journeyed to the land of Utopia and has a great deal of expertise and respect for their customs and practices.The rest of "book 1" consists of a dialog between the recipients of these letters. The dialog includes criticisms of various political policies (primarily European) ranging from wars and international relations down to property rights, poverty and punishment of criminals. It is suggested that perhaps Raphael should go into politics as an advisor. The reply seems to be rather cynical in suggesting that the kings or rulers wouldn't listen to Raphael and that the current flaws of the system will simply be allowed to perpetuate rather than be healed. The best result Raphael could see would be that the leaders may be depressed at the knowledge of the flaws but wouldn't be willing to fix them. A worse result would be that Raphael would be run out of court as a wicked corruptor of society.The second "book" in Utopia goes beyond the philosophical discussions and into the specific details about the land of Utopia. First we get some general geographic details followed by information about the physical makeup of cities, communities and families. We're taught about the leaders of the society both how they're elected and what they do. We get significant detail about the nature of work within Utopia and the nature of property. We learn about international relations between Utopia and the outside world. We learn about their trade policies, immigration and emigration policies and how they handle wars. We're told in detail about criminal punishment, slavery, household relations (marriage, divorce, etc) and their concept of religion. Each aspect is presented in great detail and with various examples of implementation as well as sometimes comparing their methods to the flawed methods of European countries.Probably the biggest overall aspect of Utopia is the idea of a wholly communal society. There is no private property. There is no real hierarchy or aggrandizement of any individual, occupation or organization. Those who "lead" certain affairs of the country do so out of necessity for the greater overall good and not with the hopes of "looking good" or getting rich or leaving some sort of legacy. Criminals generally become slaves though their method of slavery is quite humane. The idea is that people are motivated to be good in order to keep the peace and to avoid the shame and restrictions that come in "slavery." The status quo is further maintained by making it a crime to not properly carry your own load. Laziness and idleness are not permitted. If you do not do your particular job, you are a criminal and become a slave.The Utopian concepts here are often (and rightly) seen as precursors to Marxist systems of government. The distinction is that More's Utopia is outlined as a pure and complete communistic society. Everything is in common from the property to the work to the rewards. Furthermore, while the society strives to improve through education, technology and other means the improvements are seen as existing to better the society as a whole and are taken in such a way as to provide mutual benefit to all involved. They would not consider any illicit means for obtaining advantage or influence. There is no place for pride or greed.The entire concept sounds very appealing and interesting on paper. There are also many very sound concepts that could see great success in practice. However, in trying to envision the society truly being put into practice, the problems come with the "humanity" of humans. Specifically the pride, greed, laziness and other vices of humanity. Over time, individuals would become bored or otherwise dissatisfied and try to change things. The book suggests that others in society would squash such desires and disallow any groups of such people to disrupt the system. Unfortunately the desire for power, influence or wealth will inevitably allow someone to find a way of scrambling to the top, even in a society with no formal "top."The idea of doing away with a monetary system and everybody working for the good of society is an ideal that would have potential if it could be sustained. But all it takes is a few small disruptions in the process and soon the whole system collapses in on itself.From a literary standpoint, Utopia is fun in that it seems to be the predecessor to a genre that's gaining popularity now. That being the utopian novel (and its friend, the dystopian novel, which is all the rage right now). I love reading about societies trying to become "perfect" in every way. It's such a great ideal. I find the dystopian concept very intriguing as well since it generally showcases the way these utopian societies will often overstep their bounds and collapse on themselves or become the enemy.Overall this was a very interesting read. I can definitely see it as being an influential book on political theory. Taking the concepts "off the page" becomes a rather interesting philosophical investigation into the nature of humanity and the things that help us rise or fall through generations. ***3 out of 5 stars
  • (4/5)
    The word "utopia" was coined by More for his book from Greek for "no" and "place." There's some controversy as to whether this work is meant as serious or satire. Given not just the name of no place but things like the explanation of why the island is not reachable (someone coughed when the location was announced) I suspect the later. Moreover, this ideal state seems notably radical for a man who was famously a very orthodox Catholic. There's equality between the sexes (sorta), divorce, married and women priests, sanctioned euthanasia and religious tolerance (sorta). And it's a state without lawyers imagined by a man for whom that was his profession. I can't imagine from all I know of the man that what he presents is his ideal. I think it's more satire, more fanfic of Plato's Republic, than serious prescription. I mean c'mon, the slaves' chains are made of gold, children use jewels as playthings? Even the surname of the narrator, Raphael Hythloday, means "spreader of nonsense." Anyone really think More meant this all seriously? It's certainly not my ideal. Utopia is a republic that elects it's leaders. But like Plato's ideal republic it's one where lives are very tightly controlled. Where people live and their work is chosen by the state; there's no private ownership, no privacy, internal passports, sexual mores are legally enforced. There's even slavery--prisoners of war and people who have violated any of the republic's tyrannical laws. It sounds closer to China during Mao's cultural revolution than anyplace I'd want to live in. About the only aspects I can see as positive are the (relatively) egalitarian relationships between the sexes, the (relative) religious tolerance, the idea of keeping laws few and simple so that all could understand, and elected leadership. Which goes to show, one person's utopia is another's dystopia. Part of why I'm skeptical of utopias left and right--they often seem to crush too many individuals along the way to perfection, and I don't know what I'd find more horrifying, what you'd have to do to reach this utopia, or what it would be like to live under it--although goodness knows, we came close enough during the 20th century and it wasn't pretty. But what I'm reviewing and rating is not this imagined society, but this book about imagined societies. And I do love the idea of this kind of thought experiment, even if often I find attempts to create them (or at least impose them) wholesale the source of much evil. More might even agree with me. Given the satiric elements, I do think this is more about how utopias are unworkable than admirable. And you know, I think More gets it. There's this passage, said by the the character representing More himself:I don't believe you'd ever have a reasonable standard of living under a communist system. There'd always tend to be shortages, because nobody would work hard enough. In the absence of a profit motive, everyone would become lazy, and rely on everyone else to do work for him. Then, when things really got short, the inevitable result would be a series of murders and riots, since nobody would have any legal method of protecting the products of his own labour.That. Or they just starve to death. So I suspect those criticizing More as a commie are missing the mark. Some also complain this is a slog. Yet there is wit and humor here, and though some parts were tedious, well, it is short--only 134 paperback pages, not including notes, in my edition. Also More might have been an Englishman, but he wrote the book in Latin, so that means if you're reading it in English it's a translation. The first such translations didn't appear until after More's death. So if you're suffering from one with Middle English affectations, that's not More's fault--it's the translation you picked. I definitely think whatever you think of More's imaginary land, encountering these ideas are worth the read.
  • (4/5)
    Summary: Sir Thomas Moore sets forth his ideas for the ideal society. This books was instrumental in discussion of our own government. Quote: "Thus you see that there are no idle persons among them, nor pretences of excusing any from labor. There are no taverns, no ale houses, nor stews among them, nor any other occasions of corrupting each other, of getting into any corners, or forming themselves into parties; all men live in full view, so that all are obliged both to perform their ordinary task and to employ themselves well in their spare hours; and it is certain that a people thus ordered must live in great abundance of all things, and these being equally distributed among them, no man can want or be obliged to beg."
  • (2/5)
    If this audiobook hadn't been a free offer, I would never have tried to listen to this classic instead of reading it. I have found that I have a very hard time absorbing difficult or factual or philosophical material via audiobook. Knowing that, I did an 'immersion' read with this book, reading the text as I listened. So my low rating isn't a reflection upon Simon Prebbles narration per se (though his somewhat gravelly voice did tend to make me sleepy!).Thomas More's vision of a idyllic society was somewhat disappointing for me. The society he describes had some fascinating aspects but as a modern woman, there were a few too many chauvinistic attitudes. I also had some issues with some of the religious aspects such as this passage:"he [Utopus] therefore left men wholly to their liberty, that they might be free to believe as they should see cause; only he made a solemn and severe law against such as should so far degenerate from the dignity of human nature, as to think that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance, without a wise overruling Providence: for they all formerly believed that there was a state of rewards and punishments to the good and bad after this life; and they now look on those that think otherwise as scarce fit to be counted men, since they degrade so noble a being as the soul, and reckon it no better than a beast’s: thus they are far from looking on such men as fit for human society, or to be citizens of a well-ordered commonwealth; since a man of such principles must needs, as oft as he dares do it, despise all their laws and customs: for there is no doubt to be made, that a man who is afraid of nothing but the law, and apprehends nothing after death, will not scruple to break through all the laws of his country, either by fraud or force, when by this means he may satisfy his appetites."
  • (4/5)
    Ik las dit boek al eens 20 jaar geleden in de Engelse Penguin-editie. Nu nam ik het weer ter hand, ter gelegenheid van de 500ste verjaardag van de publicatie; deze keer een Nederlandse vertaling, maar wel ook al een oude (van 1973, Marie H. Van der Zeyde) en dat is er aan te merken want zowel de vertaling zelf als de uitleiding zijn bijzonder stroef. Ik herinner me dat ik de lectuur van Utopia destijds ook een heel saaie bedoening vond en dat ik een beetje teleurgesteld was. Bij deze 2de lectuur is mijn oordeel enigszins anders: ja, het blijft een taaie brok zeker omdat de auteur uiteraard stijlfiguren gebruikt en een manier van betogen die in onze tijd oubollig overkomen. Maar inhoudelijk is dit boekje toch wel een echte revelatie: More brengt tal van visies aan die heel modern aandoen, over strafrecht bijvoorbeeld, maar ook over onderwijs, democratisch staatsbestuur, religieuze tolerantie, allemaal dingen waarvan we normaal uitgaan dat ze pas met de Verlichting, dus in de 18de eeuw, opdoken. Nog eentje: "bezit is diefstal!", van Proudhon?, neen van More, hier in Utopia. Uiteraard was More zo handig om zijn boude uitspraken en visies in andermans mond te leggen, zelf de rol te spelen van milde criticaster; je kan dat laf noemen, ik vermoed dat het eerder ingegeven is door More's perfecte inschatting van de menselijke zwakte en beperktheid. In elk geval, mijn quotering voor dit boek gaat na deze lezing een heel stuk hoger.
  • (2/5)
    First published in 1516 (in Latin), the book we usually call “Utopia” originally had a much longer title, which can be roughly translated as “Concerning the Best State of a Republic and the New Island of Utopia.” It was not translated and published in English until 1551. At first, I was surprised that the language of the copy I read seemed quite modern for a book written in the 16th century, but I now realize that it was a recent translation of the original Latin rather than the first English translation.Thomas More, the author, was councillor to Henry VIII, and Lord High Chancellor of England. Working for Henry was even more perilous than working for Donald Trump (at least, so far) — More was beheaded in 1532 for refusing to take the king’s Oath of Supremacy. The book takes the form of a discussion among fairly learned men, one of whom purports to have visited the mythical island of Utopia. More intended the word utopia to mean “no place.” In modern English, it has come to mean impractically ideal. The book itself is part satire, part wish fulfillment, and the society described is indeed impractically ideal.In some ways More was a precursor to Karl Marx. The Utopians had no need for money because everyone worked hard enough to produce ample goods and shared them with everyone else. No one took more than he needed. Such an arrangement is unlikely to prosper among real human beings. Although More was describing what he may have thought to be an ideal society, he expressed a few ideas that seem repugnant to the modern reader. For example, the Utopians kept slaves, although slavery was a form of punishment for breaking the law. In addition, the Utopians were wont to extend the boundaries of their society by sending their men:“…over to the neighboring continent, where, if they find that the inhabitants have more soil than they can well cultivate, they fix a colony, taking the inhabitants into their society if they are willing….But if the natives refuse to conform themselves to their laws they drive them out of those bounds which they mark out for themselves, and use force if they resist, for they account it a very just cause of war for a nation to hinder others from possessing a part of that soil of which they make no use….”This sounds a lot like white Americans justifying Manifest Destiny. The Utopians had the same disputes of moral philosophy as the 16th century English. However, More says they “never dispute concerning happiness without fetching some arguments from the principles of religion as well as natural reason.” They spend their lives in pursuit of pleasure, but the pleasures they pursue are of a virtuous kind, forsaking “foolish…pleasure [like] hunting, fowling, or gaming, of whose madness they have only heard, for they have no such things among them.” More’s own attitude toward Utopia and the Utopians is a bit ambiguous, in that he concludes the book with the sentiment that: “I cannot perfectly agree to everything [described above]. However, there are many things in the commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.” Utopia is significant historically, but I don’t think it has much practical to say about forming a just society. It is more a description of what a just society would look like if its citizens were not as self serving, untrusting, and greedy as real humans. (JAB)
  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Yet another of the books for which I could provide a synopsis but have never read cover to cover (until now). There is much to Sir Thomas More's communist (note my use of a lowercase "c") essay that surprised me. One can see the little twists to insure against More being burned at the stake (the Utopians were ready to receive Christ as they had more or less self-discovered Christ's communal teachings - but it didn't prevent him having his head cut off for refusing to succumb to its antithesis) along with it being presented in the form of a dialogue in Book I (as per Plato, Machiavelli, et al.). A few things made me think it might be more socialist than communist, if one accepts that communism attempts to abolish the state in order to achieve equality, whereas socialism aspires to the same aim but through governmental or formal institutional arrangements. The founder of Utopia, "King" Utopus, suggested the limitations of More's imagination, and had me thinking of modern Bhutan. But the notes on the translation point out that Ralph Robinson, the translator, had added his own interpretations of the original Latin that added kings and princes where none was intended. The introduction by Richard Manus explains the reasons for keeping the original translation and for that I was pleased. The focus on religion and the idea of bondsman doing all the unpalatable work for the commonwealth brings to the fore many of the problems of communism in it twentieth century practice. Aside from the obvious problems where the dictatorship of the proletariat has never ended in its practical forms, communism has never really obtained that level of freedom, particularly in terms of occupations or individuals becoming "Renaissance" men or women, whereas, and despite its reliance on the "Metroplesque" underground to make it practicable, this is achieved, along with a six-hour work day, in Utopia. The interesting use of mercenaries in warfare and foreign relations and the stigmas attached to precious metals and pearls (for bondsmen and children respectively) point to the absurdity of surviving ideas about value and money. The use of Plato suggests a reinvention of the Commonwealth of centuries before, whereas Jonathan Swift, too, draws on the folk tradition to protect himself from his own political commentary, albeit over a century later, but relying on similarly strange peoples with startlingly homogeneous cultures. But, taken in its times, More seems to have done a good deal of the theorising for Marx to arrive and merely iron out the shortcomings. Despite my familiarity with the work, there is much fruit to be harvested by taking the time to read thoroughly what one has previously learnt second-hand. Yet I am pleased that our education system is remarkable in that, despite its secondary-source nature, the synopses I (at least) have received are true to form, if otherwise lacking in detail.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)
    Gaat minder over Utopia, dan over de huidige maatschappij en wat daarin verkeerd loopt. De kritiek is veel scherper, en vooral veel handiger geformuleerd dan bij Erasmus.
  • (4/5)
    A highly influential classic with interesting letters but including pedantic essays heavily influenced by socialism.
  • (5/5)
    “Thus I am wholly convinced that unless private property is entirely done away with, there can be no fair or just distribution of goods”“When I run over in my mind the various commonwealths flourishing today, so help me God, I can see nothing in them, but a conspiracy of the rich, who are fattening up their own interests under the name and title of the commonwealth”“If money disappeared, so would fear, anxiety, worry, toil, and sleepless nights. Even poverty, which seems to need money more than anything else for its relief, would vanish if money were entirely done away with.Sir Thomas More’s Utopia is littered with seemingly revolutionary thoughts and ideas like those above; has been claimed as an early example of medievalism, modernism, socialism, communism; it has also been claimed by protestants, catholics, idealists and even Nazis, but why on earth would a reactionary churchman like Thomas More write and publish such a tract? It has to be a joke doesn't it?. If it is then the joke is on More because his invented Utopia has passed into common usage today as an ideal world.More’s story is simplicity itself. He is introduced by his friend Peter Giles to Raphael Hythloday, who is visiting London after a voyages across uncharted seas searching for new lands. He has chanced upon the island of Utopia where he believes he has found the perfect society and is eager to return. Before Raphael can tell his story of the wonders of Utopia, he describes a dinner he had attended with Cardinal Morton and a distinguished lawyer. More uses a first person narrative for Raphael to describe the evils of the way England is currently ruled paying particular attention to the plight of the poor and the infirm. Rafael’s knowledge of foreign countries and the society’s he has witnessed on his travels leads him to propose alternative ways of dealing with the ills of England. The Utopians are introduced into the conversation and More and Peter Giles are eager to learn more details of how their society is organised and so they arrange to have dinner with Raphael and his descriptions of Utopia take up the whole of Book Two.Utopia’s geography (although not where it can be found), its cities, its social organisation, its work habits, its relations with other countries, moral philosophy, art of warfare and their religion are all lovingly described by Raphael. There are no interruptions from More or his friend as a picture of Utopia emerges. Of course there are contradictions in the story and it soon emerges that a Utopian society is based on discipline at the expense of liberty. The pursuit of pleasure for all and the good of the commonwealth cannot be achieved without restrictions on freedom that would be unacceptable to people in Thomas Mores’s circle. A point he makes on the final page of his book when he allows himself to think about what he has heard:“……but my chief concern was to the basis of the whole system, that is, their communal living, and their moneyless economy. This one thing alone takes away all the nobility, magnificence, splendour, and majesty which (in the popular view) are considered the true ornaments of any nation”Utopia was published in 1516 just about the same time as copies of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” were appearing and on the face of it the books are worlds apart. Machiavelli’s advice to his Prince is based on pragmatism and commercialism with the basic premise that a ruler always needs to be tougher and/or fairer than his opponents to maintain his position and/or increase his power.. More’s Utopia is based on a shared communalism where everybody benefits from just laws with the pursuit of pleasure for all being the chief aim. However running underneath both books is an undercurrent of pessimism; a pessimism that bites deep into the human psyche. I think that Machiavelli and More took a similar view of mankind, they saw around them people whose natural instincts were totally selfish, anarchic and sinful, whose wilful pursuit of riches and power had to be kept in check.Thomas More as far as we can judge was an ambiguous character; "a man for all seasons", in his early life particularly he was much respected in humanist circles, a friend of Erasmus and known for his wit and sagacity, however when he became active in public life; C R Elton says that “he remained determined to apply coercion and judgement to dangerous sinners, rather than compassion and comprehension.” (he was instrumental in enforcing the ultimate penalty of burning for heretics). There is evidence that he regretted the publication of Utopia and certainly when his circle of friends commented on it they thought it was a delightful little joke. The way More told his story especially by including real people in book one, convinced some people at the time of the validity of Utopia, and while today we are sure that the island of Utopia does not exist, there are still plenty of people who can read into More’s book serious political philosophy.I think it is a satire and no doubt an indictment of early 16th century society, but Raphael Hythloday’s Utopia is an excuse for the witty More to poke as much fun as possible at the society in which he lived. It is a book that is still open to many different interpretations and will produce plenty of ammunition for debate on the ills of current society and how we would like to see a perfect community organised. It is a fun read and at only 85 pages can easily be read in one sitting.I read the Norton Critical Edition, which has some excellent critical essays following a clear and absorbing translation of the text by Robert M Adams. Some contextual information is also included along with extracts from letters that were written by More and his friends, which add immensely to the enjoyment of More’s little book. There are also extracts from other authors attempts at defining a Utopia, which may be of interest. This is a classic that I thoroughly enjoyed and so I rate it at 5 stars.
  • (4/5)
    This is another one of those classic books that everyone should read. It was written in 16th century England so the language can make reading this a bit difficult/tedious. But it is worth it.This is a small book but it is broken down into two sections. The first book is letters between Sir Thomas More and several people he met. The reader is introduced to Raphael, whose the main character. The second book is about Utopia. The reader learns what life is like there, how things are run. For instance, people are re-distributed around the households in the Utopia to keep numbers even. People wear the same type of clothing, no one is unemployed. Everything is kept as equal as possible. What I found interesting abotu Utopia was that it was a welfare state, not unlike the U.S., but it was taken to the extreme. I liked this book and I would recommend it to everyone. Again, it's a classic and everyone should read this at least once in their life time.
  • (5/5)
    I have always wanted to read Thomas More's classic Utopia, and I'm pleased to finally have read it this year. Like most people, I knew Utopia to represent the ideal or perfect society but didn't know much more about the structure of Thomas More's classic.It's hard to believe Thomas More was born over 500 years before me, and yet his work has endured and is still relevant to us today. Published first in Latin in 1516, I was surprised to learn that Utopia wasn't published in English until 1551, which was sixteen years after Thomas More's unjust execution for treason.Utupia is a short novel, containing only 135 pages - and is broken down into two sections, Book One and Book Two.Book One commences with a letter from Thomas More to his friend Peter Gilles, explaining why it has taken so long to transcribe 'this little book about the Utopian Republic'. This letter is followed by another and then a discussion between Thomas More, Peter Gilles and a traveller by the name of Raphael Nonsenso. Raphael is discussing his time spent living in Utopia with Gilles and More engaging in the conversation. Book One ends with Thomas More asking for:"a detailed account of it from every point of view, geographical, sociological, political, legal - in fact, tell us everything you'd think we'd like to know, which means everything we don't know already."Book Two is the detailed account of Utopia, written by Thomas More from memory of Raphael's account.Fact or Fiction?The correspondence at the beginning of Utopia, certainly set a particular tone that what was to follow had an element of truth, or plausibility about it. This technique has been used countless times since, Bram Stoker's Dracula just one example. However, there were various clues early on that More's novel was instead a work of fiction. Raphael's surname of 'Nonsenso', was a clue, as was the curiosity surrounding the location of the island of Utopia, and the story that just as Raphael was discussing it's location a colleague coughed loudly, and More missed hearing the details.Thomas More used the fictional novel as a means to discuss controversial topics and ideas at the time, in particular in relation to nobility and the class system in England.I thoroughly enjoyed reading Utopia, and I believe it is an accessible classic for almost all readers. I think it is just as relevant and as important a piece of literature today as it was 500 years ago.
  • (5/5)
    This is the kind of book that wouldn't be done justice with just one read-through. One should carefully read, reread, analyze, take a break from, and read again. Every time I read it, I pick up on something new or come to a different conclusion about what More might have meant. It's truly fascinating, especially for the fact that the reaction upon reading may in fact reveal more about the reader than it does about More or the work itself. I've never met anyone who takes exactly the same thing away from it as someone else, and have been constantly amazed at the various insights people have that never occurred to me. To hear one's impressions of the book is to have a small window into their mind. For the sheer amount of thought and introspection Utopia provokes, I feel it is a must-read. Much is said about the actual description of Utopia, but I would encourage readers to pay just as much attention to the first portion of the book, where Raphael is introduced and speaks with his companions (the character versions of More and Giles). One might also want to keep in mind that Utopia (as opposed to Eutopia- "good place"), despite modern usage, means "no place" rather than some sort of ideal. Just as Raphael Hythlodaeus/Hythloday is a "speaker of nonsense", Utopia/"no place" is not so simple as to be the description of a perfect society. Or is it? That ambiguity is the beauty of More's work.
  • (1/5)
    i couldn't get past the stilted language to get into this book. by the time i got into the groove i really just didn't think he had much to say. i had hoped for a lot more from this, and was sorely disappointed.
  • (3/5)
    Reading this is a good exercise in humility, to realize how many subjects we discuss today have been discussed (in the same details) before. I find it interesting that people don't know just how serious More was about most of this. Is he sincere and exposing how he really feels even though he can't be more explicit or act on much of it? Or it is satirical? The subjects are presented with such respect that it isn't obvious either way.
  • (3/5)
    I'm sure Utopia has lost much of its meaning through the translation from its native Latin (By no means is this comment directed at the translation - I think much of the difficulty lies in the inherent limitations of English).For the rating I have given, I considered three things: the general enjoyment from reading the book, the ideas contained within and the historic importance (and context) of the work. Immediately after I finished reading the book, I determined that I didn’t enjoy it. After giving it much thought, I’m still not sure why that is – possibly the difficulty I have with the concept that all men are created equal, yet women are subservient to men (although, given the historical context, Moore can hardly be chastised for that), the inherent flaws I see in the ability of any society to function as described, or even some of the other more subtle difficulties I see with the novel (such as attempting to applying logical debate to religion).The difficulty I’m also faced with is the degree to which Moore is suggesting that Utopia would be the perfect society (particularly since he states within the text that he does not agree with all of the Utopian ideals) and the degree to which it is a work of satire (a highly debated topic among academics - see for example the introduction in the Penguin Classics edition).
  • (4/5)
    Utopia is the book that put the word "utopia" in our lexicon. Utopia, the word, is generally used to describe a place in which everything is a happy land where everybody is happy, and life is relatively easy. Like most children's fiction, where even the most dastardly of villains is just a litterbug or a liar, and he or she learns a valuable lesson before too many pages have passed.The book itself is written as a frame story in which More is telling others about his visit of a man named Raphael (though his last name depends on which translation you're reading), who told him about this wonderful island in the New World called Utopia, in which everybody is happy, even the slaves!Raphael goes on to explain the aspects of this island, and how it works, presenting a sort of proof-of-concept for better living (hint, hint, you new, developing nations in the New World!).No study of utopian writing is complete without at least starting here, so this book is highly recommended to any utopian (or even dystopian) reading schedule. It's also highly recommend if you like philosophical writing, and are looking for some great new ideas to consider.
  • (5/5)
    I always find it interesting when I read a book from another time period that still seems so relevant. Some of the ideas, especially the Utopians take on war, sound very familiar. Aside from presenting an interesting example of an ideal nation, I found this 500 year old book rather amusing. The introduction and the notes were also very helpful to better understand the book and put it into the context of the times.
  • (4/5)
    In a very interesting way More paints his ideal state - state of Utopia. Here, all the virtues of men are cherished while all foolishness and - well, let us call them - all the bad things in society are non-existent, due to the very nature of Utopians, their state and the very way of their educational system.Interesting book, a rather subtle critique of the European states of the time (especially when it comes to vanity of the rich and uneven distribution of wealth among the populace - again some virtues glorified in the book may prove obsolete today [because of that ever-lasting temporal element that stands between writer and the reader or maybe some political reasons] but were focus of many a debate at the time). Man cannot but agree with many aspects of Utopia to be the very ideal - dedication to knowledge and constant strive to be better human being - but the required level of social maturity is so high that even today (maybe especially today) it may be considered to be way too high.Again, society itself is not peace loving as it may seem at the beginning - when faced with conflict (forced upon them or caused by them - for territory e.g) Utopians won't hesitate to fight, but first they will extensively use their allies (motivated by political means - sounds familiar does not it) to end the conflict rarely entering the fray themselves. This makes them very modern and in my opinion less ideal society. Again, those societies that reach the level of Utopians can be forgiven to feel supreme to every other nation/society and to behave in the manner they do - but nevertheless this stains their reputation.Very questions that arise in this book - like is it better to have free roaming citizenry without any restraints thus causing havoc on most on behalf of few, or to have ordered and disciplined society that will have limited liberties but live freely and under the benevolent government - are very common themes in SF literature (there exists no better example than Heinlein's "Starship Troopers").Writing style may be difficult but don't give up - book gives a rather good view of human nature and a lot can be learned from it.
  • (4/5)
    Utopia is a work written by Thomas More in response to the grave inequality and injustice in 16th Century England. It is difficult to take seriously, unlike the Politics and the Republic, as though it borrows heavily from ancient Greek thought, it is concerned more with satirising and correcting the problems of the times than with philosophising and arguing towards something absolutely ideal. This is made obvious in several ways: the account of Utopia is given by a traveler who has supposedly been there, and the names of the country, the cities, rivers, people, etcetera are all jokes, several of the policies in the country are merely told to ridicule current western practice, and many of the details are capricious and not given reasons for.Underlying the satire is a serious message though, that through equality, fair dealing, and general niceness, general happiness can be achieved. Utopia seems less practical than other works on ideal states, as well as less ideal, but as a commentary on 16th Century England it excels. To understand the reasoning behind this book it only needs to be understood in context. Contemporary England was unfair, property was being taken from the peasants by the thousands, to use to pasture sheep to make money for the government and the wealthy via the wool trade. This lead to a large proportion of the population being homeless and without means to survive, they turned to crime to survive and in turn were hanged for petty crimes, while the rich were living it up and swaggering round in fine clothes and jewels.More being an all round good egg disliked this, and this is why an essentially communist system is advocated here, communism being an improvement on severe feudalism, and blind equality being an improvement on gross inequality. The state described here would have seemed close to perfection for the average inhabitant of England at the time, but it doesn't stand up today in comparison to the superior systems described in the more rationally thought out Greek political writings. More gets away with it though, and this remains a worthwhile read, as a satire and a work of humour it compensates for its theoretical failings. What lets it down politically are the extreme socialist and communist values, which just don't strike me as satisfying. I prefer the proportionate equality described in Aristotle's Politics, and don't believe a system where everyone is treated exactly the same would work. More when writing this did not intend it to be taken completely seriously, but it is hard to tell quite where he is joking and where he is serious; this probably lessens its worth as a piece of political philosophy, but on the whole makes it more enjoyable a read.
  • (3/5)
    I actually found this book to be quite boring. Sure, it's a classic. Sure, it outlines a theoretically equal world. But honestly, I found it difficult to keep engaged in what I was reading. How boring would life be if it were like what this book describes!
  • (4/5)
    Utopia offers an interesting critical look at live in the 16th century on the one hand as well as proposing an idea for an ideal civilization. Whether Utopia was meant to be a satire or represented More's personal views remains unclear, however, the discourse on Utopia contains several jokes and offers light reading.