Oh, Utopia. This is a hard book for me to rate/review. I guess it all depends on the questions I'm asking and what I'm rating it on:
On how much I enjoyed it? 2 stars
On how much it made me think through the ideas it presented? 4 stars
Oh how well written it was? Uhm. I give up. Rating is not fun.
You could probably guess some of my views on this book if you've noticed which Classics Challenge category I put this book in. It's not really science fiction but, at least from my point of view, it is Dystopian. The category itself was quite an interesting part of this read for me. I tried to keep an open mind but I didn't go into this thinking this would become my new favorite book and as I was reading, I was pretty much constantly evaluating whether it would fit this category. Which was fun! I had anticipated disagreeing more on the practicality and ability for this "ideal" government to actually work, I wasn't expecting to disagree so much with what the ideal was. So not only did I not have to find a new pick for this category, I ended up thinking this book was more dystopian than I planned! Despite how "tempting" More tries to make it sounds, I have absolutely no desire to live there!
It was also much less narrative than I expected. It starts out with a story but the majority of the book is just a flat out description of the country and how it works. Which sounds kinda boring but I found interesting, albeit infuriating at times. I didn't agree with much of it but that doesn't necessarily mean I can't enjoy it and I read it along with a group of wonderful women who really brought a lot of insight. But I felt what can only be described as a sense of whiplash.
Utopians value all people equally and think everyone deserves to be taken care of, just not the slaves. Or the foreigners who are willing to fight for thm which is nice but its even nicer when they die because they think overall the world has been improved by their death. Or when someone reaches the point where they have "outlived themselves" and are encouraged to commit suicide by starvation or opium.
Utopians don't judge by physical looks. If one does it is a sign of lowness in the judger not the judged. Except when people are about to become engaged, then they have them look at each other naked to see if there are defects. And if someone doesn't perserve their natural beauty, they look on it as a sign of a sluggish mind. But otherwise, looks don't matter.
They don't go to war except for ...insert whole list of reasons.
Now, some of this might have been cleared up if I knew if/how much of it was it written seriously as a blueprint for an ideal government (as some people have thought) or somewhat sarcastically to illustrate the ridiculousness of certain governments. I generally don't like satirical writings (I disliked 10 ways to destroy the imagination of your child even though I think the author and I would agree on much) but I felt like this was partly both which was confusing. At least pick one and commit! Or maybe it was all truly what More thought would be ideal. If so, yikes!
Now if it had been written today, I probably would have assumed it was supposed to taken at face value, but I expect more from More. Mostly, that basic understanding of humans that I've come to conclude our current society lacks. And there is a tone there that really seems to scream satire - but only sometimes. So basically, my thoughts were - "What are you trying to say, More!?" Since that was unclear, I was quite frustrated. I might have even given up out of annoyance if I wasn't able to discuss both options, section by section, with others, and explore what the satire was trying to say and whether his ideas had merit.
So, this ended up being a book I loved to hate. I'm glad I read it. I'll probably make my kids read it (its a Ambleside Online year 8 selection) and then maybe we can all love to hate it together. The family that reads together, stays together...unlike in Utopia, where children are removed from a "more fruitful couple" to others to ensure that all "families" stay between 10-16 people.
Utopia was my Sci-fiction, Fantasy or Dystopian Classic selection as part of Books and Chocolate's Back to the Classics Challenge.