Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Tale of a Tub” as Want to Read:
A Tale of a Tub
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Tale of a Tub

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  1,086 Ratings  ·  71 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Tale of a Tub, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Tale of a Tub

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleInfinite Jest by David Foster WallaceUlysses by James JoyceGravity's Rainbow by Thomas PynchonDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Rabelais' Codpiece
59th out of 105 books — 111 voters
Why I Write by George OrwellBooks v. Cigarettes by George OrwellA Room of One's Own by Virginia WoolfUtopia by Thomas MoreThe Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
Penguin Great Ideas
42nd out of 100 books — 46 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
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
Superb satire on the three main religions.

Also this on critics and reviewers:
These reasonings will furnish us with an adequate definition of a true critic: that he is a discoverer and collector of writers’ faults. Which may be farther put beyond dispute by the following demonstration: that whoever will examine the writings in all kinds, wherewith this ancient sect has honoured the world, shall immediately find, from the whole thread and tenor of them, that the ideas of the authors have been alt
May 21, 2013 Jake rated it it was ok
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
Nov 23, 2011 Ian rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1001-books
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
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
Alex Laser
Apr 01, 2013 Alex Laser rated it really liked it
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
Monty Milne
Jan 17, 2015 Monty Milne rated it liked it
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
Jan 02, 2015 Jocelyn rated it liked it
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
Aaron Brame
Apr 03, 2013 Aaron Brame rated it liked it
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
Jul 18, 2013 Lesliemae rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 22, 2015 MJ marked it as to-read
(from Wikipedia)There are multiple candidates for first novel in English partly because of ignorance of earlier works, but largely because the term novel can be defined so as to exclude earlier candidates:

Some critics require a novel to be wholly original and so exclude retellings like Le Morte d'Arthur.
Most critics distinguish between an anthology of stories with different protagonists, even if joined by common themes and milieus, and the novel (which forms a connected narrative), and so also
Book Wormy
Jun 27, 2014 Book Wormy rated it it was ok
Shelves: bw-tbr
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. (m
Jun 14, 2014 Arukiyomi rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
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
Adam Stevenson
Jul 28, 2016 Adam Stevenson rated it it was ok
Swift re-read this book years later and sighed that he was ‘a genius then’. Samuel Johnson thought it so good that he didn’t believe Swift had written it - but the thing has not aged very well.

Part allegory of religion, part satire on modern forms and attitudes to writing and criticism, it delves deeply into hot topics and comic goldmines which do not run very true for me as a modern reader.

While I could enjoy Smart’s satirical writing because of it’s silliness, Fielding’s controlled use of tone
Abimelech Abimelech
Apr 17, 2014 Abimelech Abimelech rated it did not like it


on -


Greg Deane
Jul 21, 2016 Greg Deane rated it it was amazing
Swift was a wickedly funny parodist whose main focus in "Tale of a Tub" are the founders of the three main Christian religions, St Peter, Martin Luther and John Calvin (Jack), who were all given unadorned but substantial coats in their father's (God's) will which they progressively debase in the course of allegorical schisms and specious interpretations of God's will. Swift uses amusing anachronisms of time and place in his impartial basting of the three religions which he separates with hilario ...more
Maartje (Tizzalicious) Witteveen
I guess I just didn't get it.
Jan 19, 2014 Martha rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, 1001
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
May 31, 2013 Ryon Shepard rated it really liked it
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.
Alastair Hudson
Aug 29, 2016 Alastair Hudson rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
A Digression.
Swift pokes a satirical stick at just about everything that was pompous and foolish. It's pretty plain that JS moved in circles that allowed him to frequent Wills coffee house and be familiar with the goings on in Parliament, publishing, the Royal society. Also that he partook in fashionable events and enjoyed all the entertainments of the day. The joy is that nothing was spared his scorn dressed up in good natured ribbing. Some of these satires could have seen him in trouble if the
John Briggs
Sep 03, 2014 John Briggs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 19, 2013 Lucy rated it it was ok
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.
Jan 01, 2014 Wendy rated it liked it
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
Sep 09, 2008 Skylar Burris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Swift makes me laugh. A man who can satirize satire...and I had to love "A Digression in Praise of Digressions."
Rob Roy
Oct 01, 2009 Rob Roy rated it did not like it
It is often said that the best books are an author's first. Not so with Jonathan Swift.
Jun 17, 2015 Martin rated it it was ok
I need a guide for the satirically perplexed. In the introduction to this guide, I need it explained to me why satire needs to be couched in metaphor. Along with this explanation, I need some sort of legend that shows me what each allegory means - and every time the allegory is mentioned, it needs to be footnoted again, because I can't keep track of it all in my head. The digressions and preachings were jarring and confusing as well. I had no idea what was going on, or what the author was trying ...more
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
Travelling Sunny
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
Feb 14, 2013 Aisha rated it it was ok
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Shelfari 1001 group: A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift 1 3 Jul 12, 2016 10:55AM  
  • The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle
  • The Inner Life
  • Amelia
  • The Christians and the Fall of Rome (Great Ideas)
  • My Search for Warren Harding
  • Ennui
  • The Man of Feeling
  • White Man Falling
  • On Art and Life
  • Clarissa Harlowe; or the history of a young lady - Volume 1 (of 9)
  • The Adventures of Gil Blas
  • The Harpole Report
  • The Unfortunate Traveller and Other Works
  • An Attack on an Enemy of Freedom
  • Titmuss Regained
  • Before Lunch
  • Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus
  • Fireflies
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...

Share This Book

“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.” 8 likes
“Whatever reader desires to have a thorough comprehension of an author's thoughts cannot take a better method than by putting himself into the circumstances and postures of life that the author was in upon every important passage as it flowed from his pen; for this will introduce a parity and strict correspondence of ideas between the reader and the author. Now, to assist the diligent reader in so delicate an affair, as far as brevity will permit, I have recollected that the shrewdest pieces of this treatise were conceived in bed in a garret; at other times (for a reason best known to myself) I thought fit to sharpen my invention with hunger; and in general, the whole work was begun, continued, and ended under a long course of physic and great want of money.” 6 likes
More quotes…