Hello again 🙂 Being a fan of cartography and travel memoirs, an amateur history buff, and an almost graduated history major who has a special fondness for Tudor history, I have long been fascinated by Sir Thomas More. So naturally Utopia is a work I have wanted to read for ages. I had been intimidated in the past and until recently only had an ebook version. When I finally discovered the benefits and pleasure of annotating books (my own copies of course) I finally realized I was capable of tackling books that had intimidated me in the past. Fortunately I found this very inexpensive copy on book depository for around 5$ last month and was very excited to dive in- which I did over the last four days. For such a famous work, I am surprised that I had no idea how short it was (my copy was only 85 pages long) but nevertheless I took my time with it and took about 4 days reading, annotating, reflecting, and taking notes.
A brief synopsis:
This book, written by Sir Thomas More in the early 16th century, describes a fictional Kingdom. A perfect society where everyone works and has useful occupation, and in which nobody goes without the basic necessities.
This book was pretty darn fascinating. One of the things that drew me in from the first was the fact that most of the main characters were real historical figures. Thomas More himself is in the book and narrates the entire thing. And from the very first sentence, in which More mentions Henry VIII in very flowery and flattering terms I was fascinated. It could also be owing to the fact that I know that More would be executed by Henry VIII years later, while he doesn’t. And while I do not know if it was his intention, I think that by using real people as characters, he turned it from something that was purely fictional into something that could be related to. The book is essentially just a long discussion between these men. Given the topic and the book’s criticism of contemporary societies, I think this was an incredibly daring thing to do. But by his choice of companions (all reputed to be good, learned men) and by setting himself up to criticize and be skeptical of all that is told to him by his friend Ralph, he manages to bring these ideas to his intended audience without seeming like the bad guy who’s got a grudge against society. It also did not escape me that Ralph, who is the one describing all of these radical ideas, is a fictional character while More and the others are not.
Another thing that struck me early in the book was something that is actually very trivial, though to me as lover of history and cartography it was very interesting. This was a mention of visiting countries below the equator. Now I know that many of the ancients were aware that the earth was round and that in the Tudor period they were aware of this as well, but the idea of the equator just seemed like such a new concept to me that I got on a tangent looking into some medieval maps and reading up on the equator itself. I found some very interesting things. For one, I had no idea that in the early medieval period, the belief that people could live beyond the equator was considered a heretical belief by the Catholic Church. In fact many maps of the time depict the equator as a ring of fire. This idea was still prevalent when Columbus set sail. And that was not so long before this book was published. And while this may not have any bearing on the book itself, I found it fascinating and decided to share it here because nobody in my house was excited to hear my ramblings 🙂
To say that this book is important would be a gross understatement. It has influenced many writers and thinkers for the past 500 years. The ideas presented in this book were radical to say the least and this book had my rapt attention throughout (if you don’t count the times I got sidetracked looking things up)
I’d gladly give it 5/5 stars and I highly recommend picking up this interesting piece of history.
Thanks for joining me while I rambled on about this.