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Book Review- Gulliver's Travels

I just finished reading Gulliver's Travels, which was written way back in 1726 by Jonathon Swift. I'm sure that just about anybody reading this blog has heard of the book, and knows the basic story. A doctor, Lemuel Gulliver, has several adventures in distant lands. In one, he is a giant among the Lilliputians and the Blefuscudians. In another, he is among the giants, the Brobdingnagians. In a third adventure, he visits the lands of Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg and Japan, inhabited by intellectuals, a magician who can conjure the dead, and one land with a class of people who couldn't die. And in his final voyage, he visited the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent horses, which was also inhabited by Yahoos, a race of humans with practically no intelligence or reason. (Here's the Wikipedia entry, for a few more details of the story.)

First, for a bit of trivia, for anyone familiar with the concept of endianness in computing (byte order), this is where the term comes from. A long standing rivalry between the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians existed over which was the proper way to open an egg, whether from the big end or the little end. Hence, there were Big Endians and Little Endians. And here I always thought it was some technical term.

To be honest, this wasn't one of my favorite books. Perhaps that was partly to do with the fact that it was a political satire, and I didn't get the jokes. I suppose it's a bit like when my daughter watches The Daily Show. She understands the sillier bits of humor, but just doesn't get the parts that require an understanding of our political climate, or the personalities involved. The edition of the book that I read did have footnotes to explain some of the references, but as everyone knows, a joke's not funny once you have to explain it.

The book also satirizes an area that I personally find very intersting - science. This occurs when Gulliver is in Laputa and Balnibarbi. Basically, the people are all intellectuals, who go to the extreme of relying entirely on theory instead of practical knowledge. I'm sure Swift wrote this in response to the Enlightenment, and to the then not so old Royal Society. However, this attitude of questioning the reason for doing science when there's no clear practical application irritates me. Knowledge for its own sake is good enough. In the same way that some people may find beauty in a painting, others can find beauty in a deeper understanding of the mysteries of our universe. I've written about this previously so I won't go on about it anymore here.

The section on Glubbdubdrib was on another subject that irritates me. The king of Glubbdubdrib had the power to bring people back from the dead (but only a day at a time, and no more than once every three months). It was basically one long section on how things were so much better back in the good old days, when the kings were nobler, the generals braver, the philosophers smarter. I've written about the good old days before, too, and they weren't always so good.

Finally, the book was just so negative. It didn't start off too bad, but became increasingly pessimistic as time wore on. In reading other people's reviews online, I've seen many of them characterize it as misanthropic, and I have to agree. You definitely don't put down the book and walk away with a skip in your step.

I guess that there's probably a reason that a book's still in print almost 300 years after it was first published. To quote the Wikipedia entry on Swift:

Gulliver's Travels is an anatomy of human nature, a sardonic looking-glass, often criticized for its apparent misanthropy. It asks its readers to refute it, to deny that it has not adequately characterized human nature and society. Each of the four books--recounting four voyages to mostly-fictional exotic lands--has a different theme, but all are attempts to deflate human pride. Critics hail the work as a satiric reflection on the failings of Enlightenment modernism.

Perhaps my main problem is that I just happen to like Enlightenment values.


your book review is not good.


Thanks for leaving a comment. If you happen to check back here, could you tell me what it was that you didn't like about my review? If it was simple disagreement about whether the book was good or not, there's nothing much I can do about that. If it was the style, your criticism could help me to improve my next review.

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