Rick's Reviews > Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
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Jan 24, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read in February, 2006

This is my first time reading this classic satire and I enjoyed it very much. It is an old American edition (1863), divorced from its colleagues in The Works of Dean Swift, with a life of Swift, which I didn’t read, and a peculiar series of annotations at the bottom of many pages, some from the series editor, some from other sources (Hawkesworth, Sheridan). Some are persnickety grammatical corrections. Some are identifying the contemporary sources of Swift’s satire. So a fittingly odd edition.

Of the four voyages, the first two are the best, to Lilliput and Brobindnag. In Lilliput, Swift ridicules the silliness of inconsequential differences that result in consequential outcomes and the corruptive capacity of individuals in power. In Brobindnag, the native giants are appalled at the brutality of European institutions.

The third voyage finds a flying island and related lands where academia is ridiculed as scholars take mathematics, astronomy, economic and political economy, and music to experiments of great impractical absurdity—my favorite was one only Dick Cheney could love. “He advised great statesmen to examine into the diet of all suspected persons; their times of eating; upon which side they lay in bed; with which hand they wiped their posteriors; take a strict view of the excrements, and from the colour, the odour, the taste, the consistence, the crudeness or maturity of digestion, for a judgment of their thoughts and designs; because men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool.”

The fourth and I think longest voyage was to a land dominated by horses and plagued by a degenerate race of humans, called Yahoos, who are linked to their more civilized cousins in Europe but both brutally contrasted to the highly rationale and civil Houynhnms. More entertaining and insightful social criticism than light or dark comedy, Gulliver’s Travels is brilliant and highly readable.
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