Sir Thomas More, Utopia. This 1516 work is the book that gave us the word ‘utopia’ – from the Greek meaning ‘no-place’, though with a pun on eu-topos, ‘good place’, implying that such an ideal society is too good to be true. More’s island utopia has variously been interpreted as a sincere description of the perfect world and as a satirical work poking fun at the world’s excessive idealists. Mind you, given that in Utopia adulterers are taken into slavery, and repeat offenders are executed, it makes you wonder whether More’s Utopia isn’t more dystopian than anything…

Thomas More lived from 1477 to 1535. He was convicted of treason and beheaded in 1535 for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. Utopia, written in Latin, was published in 1516. It was translated to English by Ralph Robinson in 1551. The translation by Clarence Miller was published by Yale University Press in 2001. [This review is based on the Miller translation.]
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Excellent read and great translation for the modern reader. Retranslated from the original Latin, with the Greek translated further into English (i.e. River Nowater), the satire and biting commentary of More comes alive for the modern reader who likely lacks the Greek or Latin language skills of the educated classs of the 16th Century. This translation makes Utopia eminently readable. This edition also includes an extensive commentary and glossary for the reader new to the work.
Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis. Although he never completed it, this utopian novel by one of the great philosophers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras is well worth reading. It was published posthumously in 1627 and outlines a perfect society, Bensalem (its name suggesting Jerusalem) founded on peace, enlightenment, and public spirit. Available in Three Early Modern Utopias Thomas More: Utopia / Francis Bacon: New Atlantis / Henry Neville: The Isle of Pines (Oxford World’s Classics) along with More’s Utopia and another early utopian novel, Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines.
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Book two has Hythloday tell his interlocutors about Utopia, where he has lived for five years, with the aim of convincing them about its superior state of affairs. Utopia turns out to be a socialist state. Interpretations about this important part of the book vary. Gilbert notes that while some experts believe that More supports socialism, others believe that he shows how socialism is impractical. The former would argue that More used book two to show how socialism would work in practice. Individual cities are run by privately elected princes and families are made up of ten to sixteen adults living in a single household. It is unknown if More truly believed in socialism, or if he printed Utopia as a way to show that true socialism was impractical (Gilbert). More printed many writings involving socialism, some seemingly in defense of the practices, and others seemingly scathing satires against it. Some scholars believe that More uses this structure to show the perspective of something as an idea against something put into practice. Hythloday describes the city as perfect and ideal. He believes the society thrives and is perfect. As such, he is used to represent the more fanatic socialists and radical reformists of his day. When More arrives he describes the social and cultural norms put into practice, citing a city thriving and idealistic. While some believe this is More's ideal society, some believe the book's title, which translates to “Nowhere” from Greek, is a way to describe that the practices used in Utopia are impractical and could not be used in a modern world successfully (Gilbert). Either way, Utopia has become one of the most talked about works both in defense of socialism and against it.

Utopians are tolerant of differing views on religion and "on no other subject are they more cautious about making rash pronouncements than on matters concerning religion." (122) However, they scorn unbelievers in any deity or afterlife, and "do not even include in the category of human beings" nor "count him as one of their citizens" if he "should sink so far below the dignity of human nature as to think that the soul dies with the body or that the world is ruled by mere chance and not by prudence." (119) "For who can doubt that someone who has nothing to fear but the law and no hope of anything beyond bodily existence would strive to evade the public laws of his country by secret chicanery or to break them by force in order to satisfy his own personal greed?" (119) "He is universally looked down on as a lazy and spineless character." (119) In fact, "a religious fear of the heavenly beings" is "the greatest and practically the only incitement to virtue." (127)

The first lesson West learns is that all industry and all institutions are under the control of the national government, a system which, he is informed, has proved to be far more effective than the earlier one of free, private enterprise because of the elimination of wasteful competition. These enormous nationwide political and industrial institutions are structured on the plan of a military organization.
The new plan of society does not conform to many of the familiar features of classical utopias. Money is used in much the way it was used in the 20th century — for wages, for the purchase of goods and property, and for amusements and travel. Most radical of the anti-utopian features is the denial of equality. Mankind is classified in a caste system that is achieved through controlled genetics and that insures the society a supply of dull-witted, underdeveloped individuals to perform the less agreeable jobs and those demanding lesser skills.
H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia. Wells was repeatedly drawn to utopias and dystopias, as is evident right from the beginning of his career and his first novel, The Time Machine (1895). The 1905 novel A Modern Utopia posits the existence of an alternate Earth, very much like our own world and populated with doubles of every human being on our own planet. The rule of law is maintained by the Samurai, a voluntary noble order.
Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious tolerance of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England. It can be answered, however, that as a pagan society Utopians had the best ethics that could be reached through reason alone, or that More changed from his early life to his later when he was Lord Chancellor.[8]
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