This is not an exciting book. It is not fun to read, and you will probably be tempted to stop reading in many times as you slog through it. But it is an incredibly important book, one that needs to be read. And it is worth reading, despite the effort it takes. This translation by Trevor Saunders is somewhat disappointing, but it is the best that I have seen. It is too modernized in many places. I am very annoyed when he has Plato saying things like "Bon Voyage" or "poppycock." I fail to see why this is necessary at all.
The book itself is split into twelve books. The first deals with the inadequacy of the current political systems in Athens and Sparta. Plato rejects both complete democracy and oligarchy. He moves on to discuss the educational benefits of drinking parties, which is one of his most eccentric ideas.
Book two deals with the educational purpose of the arts, and continues to support his drinking parties. In this section Plato shows that he very much supports censorship by the state.
Book three in a lesson in history. First Plato gives the history of mankind (which is rather interesting), and then he gives his history of political systems, showing how monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy arose, and how they changed over time.
Book four begins to discuss how the colony that they will be creating will work. It discussus the supremacy of Law, and how we should legislate.
Book five gives the preamble to the laws, and discusses personal morality, emotion, the distribution of land, monetary systems, and classes of citizens.
Book six lists all of the positions which will need to exist (i.e. police officers, judges, etc.), and how courts will work. He then moves into a discussion of marriage, which he purposely selects as the first thing to legislate because he considered it foundational to the state.
Book seven outlines Plato's ideas about education, going through various disciplines and discussing what should be taught. There is a rather humerous section where he is discussing what literature should be taught. He concludes that the book he is currently writing is by far the greatest literature ever produced, and should thus be the only required reading. Such a humble man he was.
Book eight deals with sports, the military, sexual conduct, agriculture, economics, and foreign trade (which he strongly discourages).
Book nine lists crimes which merit capital punishment, distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary crimes, and deals with crimes committed in anger and cases of homicide by insane people. He also discusses some non-capital crimes like assault.
Book ten discussus religion, and attempts to prove three things. First, the gods exist. Second, they are active in the world and care for mankind. And third, that they cannot be persuaded by humans to change their minds. He also discussus impiety and punishments dealing with religion.
Book eleven deals with laws of property ownership, commercial law, family law, and many miscellaneous laws.
Book twelve has many more miscellaneous laws, and finishes with a section on the Nocturnal Council, which is a group of men who would have the power to update the laws in case some of them turned out to be impractical.
As you can see, Plato discussus an enormous amount of material. His breadth of knowledge is nothing short of amazing. His impact on the development of politics and philosophy cannot be underestimated, making this a book very much worth reading.
One final thing I want to comment on are the claims of those who say that this book, being the last that Plato wrote, shows that Plato had changed his mind about education and politics, since this book is far less idealistic than his discussion in the Republic. This is simply missing the purpose of each book. The Republic was discussing the ideal political system. The Laws was discussing the best reasistic political system. Plato's thought did not change (much), but rather the purpose of the two books was different.
Overall grade: A