Gulliver’s Travels (ISBN: 0-14-143949-1) by Jonathan Swift is an interesting novel that was originally published as political satire. Now far removed from the contentious political scene of XVIII-century Great Britain, it has withstood the test of time and continues to be popular. This is mostly thanks to the first part of the book, where the book’s hero, Lemuel Gulliver, visits Lilliput, home to a humanoid race only inches tall. Gulliver has a number of adventures in this part of the world, including participating in a battle and putting out fires, which saves the island’s royalty. He also ends up being trapped in some distant land where the inhabitants are giants, which also provides for some adventure, but mostly being carried around in a box by a girl. Gulliver’s third voyage features a few different islands and a people who have figured out how to live on a machine that perpetually floats in the sky, landing only if the inhabitants are trying to crush the people on the ground below. Finally, Gulliver finds himself in a land where the ruling inhabitants are horses. The most inferior race in this quarter of the world are essentially humans, but in a wild and feral form. In each place, Gulliver is exposed to differing methods of government and people. He seems to learn from each, although always very patriotic when it comes to his homeland. Finally, after his visit to the land of the horse beings, he is disgusted with mankind, claiming it to not think and to be disgusting and wild in nature.
I, like most modern readers, did not get much of the political satire in the book. I would probably agree with many others that the Lilliput episode was the highlight as far as adventures went. The other sections were significantly drier, although they still had their interesting points. I noticed that by the end, although likely starting in the third episode, I was more attuned to the commentary on the behavior of people. One of the points that Swift made multiple times in the book is that people spend a lot of time in conflict with one another because we choose to magnify little differences. He also thought people succumb to thinking the grass is always greener on the other side, especially when it comes to the pursuit of scientific and technological advancement. Finally, Swift, as I read him, was a big proponent of honesty. If people would be honest in their dealings and in what they say, the likelihood of our never-ending conflicts decreases to a large degree. The combination of the story of travel and adventure with commentary was interesting, although I think it tended to detract from the book a little, making it too slow in places. I thought it was a decent book, but probably not one that I would pick up and read again just for the fun of it.
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