David's Reviews > The City of the Sun

The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella
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it was ok

This book is a curious time capsule. A look at what somebody at the turn of the 17th century might think of as the perfect society, although I'm nowhere near knowledgeable enough to say how common these views really were. Skimming Campanella's wikipedia page tells me he was imprisoned by the Catholic church, but he did have some co-conspirators, so I guess fringe but still around?

Campanella's communist, theocratic, sexist, eugenicist, "utopian" society of philosopher-warrior-artists strikes a modern reader as naive and infantile at best, deeply disgusting at worst, but the depth to which he describes every aspect of this society offers some interest. Unfortunately the material is drier than it needs to be. There are no characters to latch onto, no narrative, nothing about how the narrator felt upon discovering this society, just a long description of how every aspect of it is organized as if a teacher were giving a lecture.

The grand-master he's having a conversation with is completely unnecessary and adds nothing to the conversation except a "do please go on, tell me how they do X," every time the story shifts to a new topic. The book would be better without him, because having him there but doing nothing makes the missed opportunity for real argument and conflict (and thus some actual narrative tension) all the more apparent. It's far too obvious that Campanella is simply preaching his personal philosophy to the reader and the grand-master character could've been an excuse to play devil's advocate with a conflicting viewpoint.

For a fun drinking game, take a shot anytime the narrator says, "and so on." If anyone survives the resultant alcohol poisoning and stomach pumping I'd love to hear about it.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 17, 2016 – Shelved
June 17, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Leila (new) - added it

Leila Debiasi I can see your point, but I think you are making some mistakes. First of all, it's quite unfair to judge this book without taking into account the historical context in which it was written. Another thing I would like to tell you: this type of dialogue was often used during renaissance and modern age, when Plato's (and Aristotle's) dialogues were rediscovered.

message 2: by David (last edited Feb 06, 2018 08:42AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David Leila wrote: "I can see your point, but I think you are making some mistakes. First of all, it's quite unfair to judge this book without taking into account the historical context in which it was written. Anothe..."

Taking into account the historical context is a task for historians. My job as a casual reader, such as it is, is to read things and say whether I think they are worthwhile today. This, I would say, is not. Plenty of old things still hold up today. Shakespeare, for instance. Since you brought up Plato, that's another. I love old things, and I love history, but this just seems worthless to be perfectly honest. Depends where your historical interests lie, I guess, but this just seems incredibly niche and of little historical importance.

As far as the dialogue, I read most of the republic in school and while it's been a long time, I definitely remember actual conversations in there. As in two people contributing something in a back and forth sort of way.
This book has no conversation happening between the two characters. It's copying the technique without realizing what it's for. The technique isn't what I take issue with here, it's that it's not actually being used for, literally, anything. Why write two people having a conversation but leave out the conversation part? What sense does that make? Just because something was often used doesn't automatically mean it's always justified. Thoughtlessly copying trends without understanding them is something worth pointing out, no?

It's like how there are some period novelists who REALLY didn't understand how to use omniscient viewpoint, but of course used it anyway, because that was just the way most people wrote novels at the time, as limited third person and first person weren't en vogue yet. I wouldn't say they deserve a pass on criticism just because everyone else was also writing omniscient. You have to both do it and demonstrate you understand it as well as your contemporaries do and are justifying its use as much as your contemporaries are, because otherwise you are below your contemporaries and, thus, a bad writer, and you'll only seem worse as time goes on. That's my feeling on it, anyway.

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