Utopia by Sir Thomas More

This is an incredibly difficult book to review.

On it’s own merits, Utopia is not great, but it does make you think.  The setup is the comparison and contrast between the ills of society as presented in book 1 and the society of the Utopians as presented in book 2. It’s a classic discourse of Humanist argument, contrasting the points of view that would have been prominent at the time. As a comparison with our modern society, it’s interesting in and of itself, made somewhat ironic in that the Utopians live in the “New World” that had only recently been discovered.

Taking into account the historical time and place, the new and potentially bright reign of Henry VIII (years before Anne Boleyn entered the picture), and the fact that England was just entering the Renaissance after the rest of the Europe had developed it for 100 years (give or take a decade or two), this book becomes an historical curiosity. This is compounded by the personality, service, and devotion of Thomas More, both to his king and to the Church. History does not record why More wrote the book, and many of the ideas in it are not only alien to Medieval / Renaissance Europe and England, they are in complete contrast with everything we know of More himself. In my eyes, this kicks the book’s interest level up a notch. The more you know of the history and the personalities of the age, the more of an anomaly this book becomes, made even more ironic by the infamous events leading to More’s execution and the Reformation that swept Europe. The level of how much seriousness vs. how much satire is involved is a topic of debate that continues to this day amongst scholars, and it’s easy to see why. The more of an enthusiast or scholar you are for this sort of thing will certainly determine how much you get out of it.

4 stars

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