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A Tale of a Tub

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  715 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Swift's exuberant, bawdy fable is a unique satire on politics, religion, fashion, madness and on writing itself.
Paperback, 144 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published 1704)
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You know those moments when you, who learned English as a foreign language since you were young, think that you understand the language perfectly fine, and then you decide to read a book and realize that you know nothing? Well, this is basically how this book made me feel: utterly stupid, ignorant, humiliated and disappointed with myself. I'm pretty sure this is a darn good book and an intelligent critique once you're given the context and the political situation that serves as a background for ...more
Can't say I enjoyed this terribly much. As with other Swiftian satires, I felt as if there was much that I was not getting, that a good deal would have meant so much more to a contemporary audience.
The story itself is simple, an allegory of religious excess, with three prodigal sons disrespecting their father's will, each representing a part of the Christian faith. Much more interesting is the amount of prefaces, analysis, forewords and digressions that actually make up much of the work. The dig
To quote the late great Roger Ebert "I hated hated hated hated hated this" book. I give it two stars instead of one for the very simple but important issue: I didn't understand I word of it. So maybe it ain't Swift's fault.
Now, first of all, I consider myself an intelligent person. I have read "hard to understand" novels and treasties. I have understood forms of dry philosophy. I got through George Elliot.
But this... well this is a creature onto itself. Secondly, many people have stated that th
I think I mentioned before that satire and parody aren't my favourite genres. I try to be fair when rating these books and to take into consideration the effect the books had or must have had when they were published.
This book was VERY hard for me to read. It was my second book by Jonathan Swift. My first was A Modest Proposal which was quite funny at some points but the ca. 10 pages of it were already definitely enough for me. I thought that A Tale of a Tub would be another quick read I would r
Aaron Brame
I read A Tale of a Tub. Written for the Universal Improvement of Mankind for grad school, and it is one of the most unusual texts I have ever read. Swift published it anonymously in 1704--it was his first major work--and it is a rambling, disjointed, unintelligible book that challenges even the most careful reader. My professor said it was the most difficult work of the 18th century, and I believe him.

What's difficult about it? Well, the first indication that you're in for a rough few nights of
Alexander Laser-robinson
A book about the vanity of books. Funny and perhaps more relevant than ever in the age of self-publishing via Twitter and Facebook. Swift was living through the advent of mass literacy. Although books and book audiences were proliferating rapidly in his time, Swift recognized that human ideas and sophistication were not developing apace. Mass literacy did not mean mass intelligence. So many writers in Swifts time, through their numerous nauseating preludes, digressions, and postludes, endeavored ...more
It is said that Swift, when he was rich and years and his powers of criticism were distinctly failing, was overheard saying with regards to Tale of a Tub, "Good God, what a genius I had when I wrote that book."


This book was f.a.n.t.a.s.t.i.c! I find myself overrun with self-reflexive ponderings that equally confirm and satirize my position as a scholar/critic. I love this book and will read it for the rest of my life (which conveniently Swift proclaims that learned people are inclined to
Monty Milne
There were plenty of times I laughed out loud reading this, delighted at Swift's idiosyncratic genius. If you like lengthy quotations from Horace interlarded with fart jokes, then this is for you....but there is a problem with this text. It is almost impossible for anyone to read it today without possessing EITHER an intimate familiarity with the literary, theological, cultural and historical context of 300 years ago OR being forced to wade through so many explanatory footnotes that the pleasure ...more
Book Wormy
250) A Tale of a Tub Jonathon Swift

This is complicated story with one central story line that of 3 brothers Martin, Peter and Jack who represent the 3 major divisions of Christianity. They are given a fine coat (Christianity) each by their father (God) when he dies and instructions not to change it unless it is within the terms of his will (The Bible) as you can guess this doesnt suit young men about town and before long the will has been used to justify changing the coats our of recognition.
Swift is better known for his later works (Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal in particular) and having read those before turning to this, it’s easy to see why. In fact, I’m very glad I did it that way round or I might have never had the courage to face the others. A Tale of a Tub is not an easy read. For a start, it lacks a cohesive structure, but as with all dated satire, references can be very hard to pinpoint.

Thankfully, it starts out pretty simply. Three brothers are left coats in the
Joseph Nicolello


on -


Although I could read this, I’m just not sure what it was about. These are the times I’m aware of my limited intelligence ;)
Ryon Shepard
Books are organisms. They are living, breathing things made of consciousness. Sometimes the meaning of a book is not in what is explicitly written. Sometimes it is in the movement, it is the flow itself. It's music, it is sound, and it affects consciousness at a level that few of us are conscious of. This is one of those books. Along with Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Cantos of Ezra Pound, Beckett, etc . . . this book is a living thing.
Difficult read if you don't know much about the history of Catholicism, Christianity or its main sects. I only understood certain portions of it here and there, and especially when it got to Henry VIII and onward, but with a more in-depth reading and a plethora of footnotes, I think I could've been able to understand the whole thing.

The book is separated into eleven parts and the actual A Tale of a Tub parts are every even-numbered part, with the exception of X (which is a further digression fro
John Briggs
I cannot say enough about how brilliant this book is. It's been said that it was Swift's favorite, too, and while not his best-known work, it has one mark of comedy that "Gulliver's Travels" lacks: brevity, though not brevity of wit, as Swift constructs these long-winded sentences that ramble to an off-center conclusion that mocks his boring and self-indulgent contemporaries. And that is the book's reputation, being a parody of overwritten tropes and tomes, and it is that, but it is also, 300 ye ...more
A fine insomnia cure. This really needs to be read with copious explanations and footnotes. It shows that satire does not always wear well. If this had been Swift's only work, I think he would have been forgotten by now.
I have generally liked Swift's works so far, but this one left me confused and lost...which from reading things about this work is, I suppose, his intention. But it just left me frustrated.
Skylar Burris
Swift makes me laugh. A man who can satirize satire...and I had to love "A Digression in Praise of Digressions."
Rob Roy
It is often said that the best books are an author's first. Not so with Jonathan Swift.
Have to say this was a slog to get through. Swift was a brilliant writer, but the effect wears off when so much of his approach is argumentum ad nauseum--there's only so much of your cleverness that I can take at one time, Mr. Swift.

That said, there are definitely some choice passages here.

- On writers who fancy themselves "wits": "Let them remember it is with wits as with razors, which are never so apt to cut those they are employed on as when they have lost their edge. Besides, those whose tee
Sunny In Wonderland
You've just gotta love Project Gutenberg!
But, this story, not so much.

I thoroughly enjoyed Swift's A Modest Proposal, but the social issues being lampooned in that one are still issues in our modern times. So. I got the jokes.

But, THIS satire is about religion and politics (which were completely bound together at the time) and the split between Catholics, Protestants, and the Church of England. There were so many allusions to people I don't know, historical scenarios I've never been introduced t
The following review is takend from another reader (Arya Deschain)because it is EXACTLY what I was thinking except English is my native language...

You know those moments when you, who learned English as a foreign language since you were young, think that you understand the language perfectly fine, and then you decide to read a book and realize that you know nothing? Well, this is basically how this book made me feel: utterly stupid, ignorant, humiliated and disappointed with myself. I'm pretty s
Momina Masood
Very cumbersome with very little coherence. There are moments of clarity and truth, but they are few and far between. The main problem of this is that what could have been said in one line was said in a lot and there were too many digressions that the result felt to me a mere hodgepodge. The satire swam up to the surface at times but was quickly swept away by giant waves of the unsubstantial, the dull, and the impertinent; same goes for his humor.

But putting all of this aside, the allegory was
Will Albers
I only read this because it's on the 1001 Books list but this would be the first one I'd remove were that list to be updated again. It went completely over my head. I suspect that Jonathan Swift was something like the Hunter S Thompson of his day. Five hundred years from now people will read Thompson without having any idea of the context of the present day in which he was writing and and it'll all be over their heads too. So I'm sure that Swift was wildly funny and cutting in his day and leave ...more
Liz Polding
Witty, irreverent and scatalogical, Swift takes aim and scores a bullseye. Fashion, politics, writing and a society that finds insanity a form of entertainment all fall beneath a barrage of words. Literary devices like the excessively lengthy chapter heading (also satirised by Eleanor Catton in The Luminaries) are ridiculed. Why bother to read the chapter - you already know what happens? An old friend from university re-read and savoured as much as ever.
Julianne Quaine
The Tale of a Tub, a short book, was written by Swift to satirise and parody the poor quality and standard of writing at the beginning of the eighteenth century, religion in its diverse forms, with particular criticism of the more extremist Protestant groups of the time. The book takes the form of a story of three brothers, representing three religions, the papists, the Church of England and puritans and other extreme forms of Protestantism and how each uses their father's inheritance. There are ...more
Wayland Smith
This was some really biting satire that's still amusing all these years later. Swift makes some suggestions that were no doubt shocking at the time. It's a very short work, barely over 100 pages. I'd say it's worth a read for the humor, and it's not long enough to be a major investment. I'd recommend it to enjoy the writing and for a look at satire of time gone by.
"For, to speak a bold truth, it is a fatal miscarriage so ill to order affairs as to pass for a fool in one company, when in another you might be treated as a philosopher; which I desire some certain gentlemen of my acquaintance to lay up in their hearts as a very seasonable innuendo."

And another: "I am now trying an experiment very frequent among modern authors, which is to write upon nothing, when the subject is utterly exhausted to let the pen still move on..."

This is one of those humorous pa
Faye Scott
I can't rate this book as I couldn't finish it. Why? Because after reading 36% I realised I didn't have a clue what was going on. Something about three men and their coats, right?

Maybe I'll come back to it when I'm more intelligent.
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Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for Whigs then for Tories), and poet, famous for works like Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, The Drapier's Letters, The Battle of the Books, and A Tale of a Tub. Swift is probably the foremost prose satirist in the English language, and is less well known for his poetry. Swift published al ...more
More about Jonathan Swift...
Gulliver's Travels A Modest Proposal A Modest Proposal and Other Satirical Works Gulliver's Travels and Other Writings Gulliver's Travels / A Modest Proposal (Enriched Classics)

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“I have one word to say upon the subject of profound writers, who are grown very numerous of late; and I know very well the judicious world is resolved to list me in that number. I conceive therefore, as to the business of being profound, that it is with writers as with wells; a person with good eyes may see to the bottom of the deepest, provided any water be there; and often, when there is nothing in the world at the bottom, besides dryness and dirt, though it be but a yard and half under ground, it shall pass however for wondrous deep, upon no wiser a reason than because it is wondrous dark.” 5 likes
“For to enter the palace of learning at the great gate requires an expense of time and forms, therefore men of much haste and little ceremony are content to get in by the back-door.” 5 likes
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