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Utopia
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2007
Sir Thomas More's Utopia is a hugely ambiguous, evocative and thought provoking book. It relays a conversation between Thomas More and Raphael Hythloday, who tells the story of a kingdom he has recently spent a number of years living in, Utopia. Raphael gives the details of this nation, a natiion where everyone is equal, where they all wear the same clothes, there is no money, everyone works for the good of the nation, everyone gets the same education, and so on, in short a perfect communist society.

However, even though Raphael Hythloday says throughout that there is no better system of government in the world than the Utopian way, the book in no way makes it apparent the author feels this, the charachter Thomas More in the book is sceptical of some of the Utopian ideals, and we are left ourselves to decide, and even though it is a utopia filled by equality, the image of the nation is quite a creepy one, everyone looks the same, all of the cities are identical, people are only allowed to visit other cities with a special permit and even when they are in other cities they still have to work. Criminals are forced into slavery rather than imprisoned, but even the "free" citizens appear to be slaves to an extent.

A critique of English Tudor government, of the role of the monarchs privy council and the running of England is also offered in book which is quite interesting. But this book will make you think about government and the ideals of a perfect society, and how in the end, the utopian ideal is flawed.

Wonderful book, read it.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Thomas More, executed by Henry VIII (one of his best friends) for treason, led an illustrious career of politics and letters. Under his friend the King, he served in many capacities - Speaker of the House of Commons, Master of Requests, Privy Councillor, etc. - culminating with the trust of the position of Lord Chancellor, a position in those days matching the prominence (if not the definition) of Prime Minister in these days. More's strong integrity and resolute mind caught the attention of scholars, political and church leaders internationally; it was this same integrity that most likely was his undoing, refusing to assent to the King's divorce and severance of ties binding the English Church with the Roman overlordship of the Pope. Indeed, More was, if not the actual ghostwriter, then certainly an inspiration and editorial aide to the document produced by King Henry VIII against the continental protestants, earning for Henry (and his heirs ever after) the title of Defender of the Faith (historical irony is that this title, most likely not intended to be hereditary, now declares the defense of a faith separated from the one for which the title was bestowed).
While an Ambassador to Flanders, More spent spare time writing this book, 'Utopia'. The very title is a still a by-word in the English language (as well as others) of a state of bliss and peace; it is often used with the context of being unrealistic. 'Utopia' is More's response to and development from Plato's 'Republic', in that it is a framework for a perfect society, or at least perfect according to More's ideas of the time. Penned originally in Latin, 'Utopia' has been translated widely; one of the better translations is by H.V.S. Ogden, in 1949, still reprinted in various editions to this day. Originally published in Latin in 1516, the first English version appeared in 1551, some 16 years after More's death.
-----------
Utopia
-----------
Thomas More writes this as if he were traveling, and meets his friend Peter Giles, who introduces him to Raphael Hythloday, a scholar/traveler with tales to tell.
Hythloday made friends with a prince who outfitted him for a journey. He traveled through deserts and fertile lands. He proceeds to give an account to Giles and More. In an ironic twist, given More's own attachment to Henry VIII, Hythloday states that he doesn't give his information in advice of kings or princes, for to be beholden to them is not a wise thing. He quotes Plato, in saying that unless kings were themselves philosophers, they should never appreciate philosophers.
More argues for public service, which Hythloday rejects as something that other place-seekers will use to bolster their own positions. Then Hythloday makes the startling pronouncement with regard to how a society should be constituted: 'As long as there is property, and while money is the standard of all things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily; not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few (and even these are not in all respects happy), the rest being left to the absolutely miserable.'
Hythloday proceeds to give an account of the life of Utopia, where, he says, there are so few laws and so much liberty and equality that virtue is always rewarded, and each person has what he or she needs. He talks about this under the following headings:
Of Their Towns, Particularly of Amaurot
Of Their Magistrates
Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life
Of Their Traffic
Of the Travelling of the Utopians
Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages
Of Their Military Discipline
Of the Religions of the Utopians
'Utopia' is a radical document. It anticipates the modern idea of communism, with private property at a minimum; it is generations ahead in the idea of equality of the sexes and freedom of religion. This may seem a remarkable statement from someone who will go to his death supporting the Roman hierarchy, but in historical irony, had religious freedom been respected in England at the time, More would have had nothing to fear.
'Utopia' was a place of education and free inquiry. Again, More's own life models this - travelers from as far away as Constantinople and Venice, visiting More's home in Chelsea, remarked on the incredible sense of knowledge and respect for reason and learning, not just for the men, but also for the women of the household (More's own daughter once impressed Henry VIII with her Latin training so much he was at pains to find something at which he excelled that he could best her at).
At different points throughout the text, More (speaking through Hythloday) jabs in witty and insightful manner the habits of the day - that kings are often more concerned to fill their own coffers than increasing the general wealth of the nation; that courts are designed to be self-serving and self-perpetuating; that liberties are curtailed not for just and reasonable causes, but often for petty personal reasons.
Some of the ideas, however, are not as modern or enlightened as they might seem at first glance. Utopians' freedom of religion exists only in very narrow bounds of reason - they are all monotheists, and while they might identify this deity with the sun or moon or a good person who died long ago, they are not permitted to speak or attempt to convert others to this idea, without risking bondage or death. Not too Utopian after all...
-------
More was beatified by Leo XIII in 1886 and canonised by Pius XI in 1935 (it is significant to note that Anglican-Roman relations were at a strained point during these times, and the raising of an English saint who rejected the Anglican construct served at least minor political points, something More would have been able to appreciate, if not approve). The official feast day is July 9.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2001
I would hate for people to get the wrong impression of what for me is a first rate book. In this particular edition one even gets a superb and in many ways indispensible introduction from Paul Turner.
The great thing about this book is the nuances and element of irony that runs throughout. At first glance much of More's writing does in fact appear naive and incredulous. A more careful reading and one is left with a feeling of ambiguity as to what More's own motives for writing this book were. The most interesting part is seeing how More's writing compares to his own life and how often the two stand diametricaly opposed to one another. A good example of this is the question of how religion should be practiced.
The beauty of this book, therefore, is that one is left not entirely sure whether More is writing the first utopian novel or whether he is in fact writing a dystopia something that it is generally thought only came about much later. Remember More used the word utopia which means 'no place' to mean just that, it is only our present-day use of the word that attaches the idea of perfection to it, not his.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2004
While short, this book is rich with radical ideas: Absence of private property, absence of currency, deposition of the prince if suspected of tyranny, freedom of religious belief, female priests, euthanasia, divorce by mutual consent.
I am not sure I would like to live in Utopia. It is definitely a more tolerant, free and equal society model than early 16th century England, but the excesses of Communism (e.g. forced work on farms for townsfolk) are just around the corner.
I would recommend this book, if only for its historical interest. However, it is not an easy read - especially if you are not a native English speaker. The convoluted Latin sentence structure is difficult enough without having to deal with the obsolete vocabulary.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Thomas More, executed by Henry VIII (one of his best friends) for treason, led an illustrious career of politics and letters. Under his friend the King, he served in many capacities - Speaker of the House of Commons, Master of Requests, Privy Councillor, etc. - culminating with the trust of the position of Lord Chancellor, a position in those days matching the prominence (if not the definition) of Prime Minister in these days. More's strong integrity and resolute mind caught the attention of scholars, political and church leaders internationally; it was this same integrity that most likely was his undoing, refusing to assent to the King's divorce and severance of ties binding the English Church with the Roman overlordship of the Pope. Indeed, More was, if not the actual ghostwriter, then certainly an inspiration and editorial aide to the document produced by King Henry VIII against the continental protestants, earning for Henry (and his heirs ever after) the title of Defender of the Faith (historical irony is that this title, most likely not intended to be hereditary, now declares the defense of a faith separated from the one for which the title was bestowed).
While an Ambassador to Flanders, More spent spare time writing this book, 'Utopia'. The very title is a still a by-word in the English language (as well as others) of a state of bliss and peace; it is often used with the context of being unrealistic. 'Utopia' is More's response to and development from Plato's 'Republic', in that it is a framework for a perfect society, or at least perfect according to More's ideas of the time. Penned originally in Latin, 'Utopia' has been translated widely; one of the better translations is by H.V.S. Ogden, in 1949, still reprinted in various editions to this day. Originally published in Latin in 1516, the first English version appeared in 1551, some 16 years after More's death.
-----------
Utopia
-----------
Thomas More writes this as if he were traveling, and meets his friend Peter Giles, who introduces him to Raphael Hythloday, a scholar/traveler with tales to tell.
Hythloday made friends with a prince who outfitted him for a journey. He traveled through deserts and fertile lands. He proceeds to give an account to Giles and More. In an ironic twist, given More's own attachment to Henry VIII, Hythloday states that he doesn't give his information in advice of kings or princes, for to be beholden to them is not a wise thing. He quotes Plato, in saying that unless kings were themselves philosophers, they should never appreciate philosophers.
More argues for public service, which Hythloday rejects as something that other place-seekers will use to bolster their own positions. Then Hythloday makes the startling pronouncement with regard to how a society should be constituted: 'As long as there is property, and while money is the standard of all things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily; not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few (and even these are not in all respects happy), the rest being left to the absolutely miserable.'
Hythloday proceeds to give an account of the life of Utopia, where, he says, there are so few laws and so much liberty and equality that virtue is always rewarded, and each person has what he or she needs. He talks about this under the following headings:
Of Their Towns, Particularly of Amaurot
Of Their Magistrates
Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life
Of Their Traffic
Of the Travelling of the Utopians
Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages
Of Their Military Discipline
Of the Religions of the Utopians
'Utopia' is a radical document. It anticipates the modern idea of communism, with private property at a minimum; it is generations ahead in the idea of equality of the sexes and freedom of religion. This may seem a remarkable statement from someone who will go to his death supporting the Roman hierarchy, but in historical irony, had religious freedom been respected in England at the time, More would have had nothing to fear.
'Utopia' was a place of education and free inquiry. Again, More's own life models this - travelers from as far away as Constantinople and Venice, visiting More's home in Chelsea, remarked on the incredible sense of knowledge and respect for reason and learning, not just for the men, but also for the women of the household (More's own daughter once impressed Henry VIII with her Latin training so much he was at pains to find something at which he excelled that he could best her at).
At different points throughout the text, More (speaking through Hythloday) jabs in witty and insightful manner the habits of the day - that kings are often more concerned to fill their own coffers than increasing the general wealth of the nation; that courts are designed to be self-serving and self-perpetuating; that liberties are curtailed not for just and reasonable causes, but often for petty personal reasons.
Some of the ideas, however, are not as modern or enlightened as they might seem at first glance. Utopians' freedom of religion exists only in very narrow bounds of reason - they are all monotheists, and while they might identify this deity with the sun or moon or a good person who died long ago, they are not permitted to speak or attempt to convert others to this idea, without risking bondage or death. Not too Utopian after all...
-------
More was beatified by Leo XIII in 1886 and canonised by Pius XI in 1935 (it is significant to note that Anglican-Roman relations were at a strained point during these times, and the raising of an English saint who rejected the Anglican construct served at least minor political points, something More would have been able to appreciate, if not approve). The official feast day is July 9.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2002
Utopia, as described by Sir Thomas More, is a terrifying concept. There are many aspects to the society that are laudable such as the eradication of poverty, starvation and homelessness. However these aspects are balanced by some extremely undesirable ones. Examples being the proposition that the best use of the mentally ill in society is as a source of amusement. Another being the restrictions on the movements of Utopian citizens within their country. Also the Utopians use of mercenaries to fight their wars for them where they have such a dislike for the mercenaries they hire that they consider it good if they are killed as it is deemed to do humanity a favour.
You are left picking out the aspects you like and discarding those that you don't. I cannot help but wonder exactly how many things you can remove from the Utopian society before the whole things collapses.
This is a book that everyone should read.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 2002
This is a very good book that can be read on many different levels, from a pure fable about a 'perfect' world, to a blueprint for society.
People continue to debate the extent to which More meant Utopia to be such a blueprint and whether the book helps to provide the basis for modern day communism etc. Whilst these are intersting ideas (particularly for those who enjoy philosophy)for me one of the most interesting things about the book is the way More uses the character of Raphael to provide an often thinly veiled attacks on medieval kings and society.
In parts the book attacks the traditional roles of medieval Kings - for example it laments that kings seem more interested in waging foreign wars and amassing wealth than in looking after their subjects etc. In places it goes as far as to suggest that Kings are at best foolish and at worst tyrannical leaders who hold back the creation of a 'better' society. You may not think that this is anything new, but these statements of course need to be viewed in light of England in the 1500s, when the King was sovereign and murder/banishment was common practice for dissent. So in that respect I think that the book is quite radical.
It is also interesting to see the apparent contradictions between More's views in the book and his actions/beliefs in real life. For example, as outlined above, the book criticises medieval kings, yet More was happy to work for the king and was liable to commit similar excesses as the monarch - for example we know that More had people committed to death. The book also explains that euthanasia and divorce are acceptable, yet how does this fit with More's own Christian beliefs?
Conclusion - all in all an enjoyable read and not a book soley for budding philosophers. Give it a try and be pleasantly surprised.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2012
I read this for a class and it was a very good read. If you make it to the second half it gets quite fascinating - although I decided I'd rather not live in "Utopia". (The first half is pretty dull and half the time I couldn't tell who was speaking.)
This version of the text is nice and clean, not a scholarly edition, I suppose, because of its lack of footnotes. I regretted the lack of footnotes eventually, but whilst reading it, their absence made the page less distracting.
It's a thin, light copy - good to carry around!
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on 2 February 2013
I saw the Penguin: Great Ideas copy in the shop and thought it might have been an abridged copy. I mean, it's not a long book, but the Great Ideas copy seemed too small. It wasn't, or, at least, I don't think it was.
The translation was a bit anachronistic for the 16th century - words used like 'capitalism' didn't emerge until later. There were a few minor spelling and grammar errors here and there, but not many.
The story itself was good, I thought. It read more like a philosophical text than I thought it would - like a Socratic dialogue than a fictional novel. More seems to criticise the establishment, but then quickly make amends for it (probably so he wouldn't be beheaded!). It seems to me more of a mix between Plato's "Republic" and Marx's "The Communist Manifesto" in More's ideas (or at least the ideas he allows his characters to put forward). Bear in mind it was written in the 1500s, though, by a well-to-do statesman.
The names of the various counties and Utopian names for things made me chuckle - such as "Noplace" or "Tallstoria".
I enjoyed it. I would recommend it to others.

It also has a pretty cover.
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on 9 August 2014
I'd give this 11/10. What a book and written in the 15th Century as well. An idealized society living off the land, 6 hour days with 2 hour lunches. Everyone is employed, everyone learns a trade of their choice, there is a great emphasis on learning and developing oneself. Material possessions are all held in common, there is no need to hoard, or go without, as everything is provided. Gold, jewels, fine linen has no value as they are not used as a means of currency. Infact extravagant wealth and consumption are looked down upon. Marriage is for life and they are allowed to inspect each other physically (with supervision) before they get married. The argument being you would not buy a horse before inspecting it and a wife/husband is much more valuable. They do have a policy on war which involves not fighting on their own land and being merciful to an enemy who does not want to fight, but such violence does seem incongruous for a peaceful nation.
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