Review: Sir Thomas More’s Utopia

Utopia Utopia by Thomas More

4 of 5 stars
I need to not have pre-conceived notions about books before I read them. For some reason, I thought this was a more contemporary book. I knew that this book was what a lot of dystopian books are influenced by, but I didn’t realize it was written in the 16th century!

The framing device More employed confused me for the first part of the book, but when once I got into the meat of the argument, I promptly forgot the outer frame.

Like most people who have read a lot of science fiction, I was at first mistrusting of the claims Raphael made of the island. But as I read more and more, the island sounds like a fantastic place to live. Only 6 hours of work a day, lots of time to pursuit intellectual pleasures, never going hungry, and religious toleration? Sign me up!

There were only two bits about the book that I had trouble with. The Utopians regard killing animals and butchering animals dirty, beneath them, and dehumanizing — which is why they get slaves to do it for them. With their capacity for reasoning and their penchant for farming and hard work, I’d think that the whole society would decide to become vegetarians.

The second part was how easily and quickly the Utopians adopted Christianity. For the most part, they seem to be self sufficient and pleased with their own thinking, which was why I was surprised how quickly they embraced Christianity. More explains it was because the core beliefs of Christianity so closely resembled Utopian religions, but I was still skeptical that it was More asserting his belief or placating his readers. In the 16th century, maybe people felt more nervous reading a book about distant men who were so superior but not Christian. At least he put in the bit about religious toleration.

For someone who likes dystopian novels, I’m glad I finally sat down and read Utopia. It certainly gives a different perspective to not having private property and living in a somewhat communist society. Sure, it’s very idealized, but at the end of the book, I was convinced if I could find a country like that, I’d be pretty happy living there.

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