Jacob Appel's Reviews > Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
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it was amazing

Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" remains as relevant today as it did in the eighteenth century, which is rather impressive for a work of satire. How our culture has reached the point where thousands of Goodreads readers rate this book a 1 or 2 is incomprehensible to me -- and deeply unsettling. It makes me fear that Swift was correct about the Yahoos.

This is my fourth journey with Lemuel Gulliver. My grandmother read of him to me as a child; I read about him for an eighteenth century literature course in college; I read about him again in my late 20s; and then this week, I discovered a heavily annotated paperback copy from 1960 in the basement of my apartment building, and was immediately distracted from my daily life. Of note, this copy of the book (per the title page inscription) once belonged to: "Jeff Hodge, Box 387, Amherst"; if you read this review and happen to know him, please put him in touch with me and I will gladly send his book back to him.

As for Gulliver....In earlier readings, I confess I enjoyed the imaginative elements of the tale as much, if not more, than the satire: Lilliput vs. Blefuscu, the mechanics of the floating island of Laputa, the wild inventions designed in the Grand Academy of Lagado. Swift's imagination is vast and clever, and Gulliver is highly sympathetic (no easy task when describing a creature who is, by design, largely reflective and reactive), although I do feel bad for his neglected wife and children. (His wanderlust may be psychologically accurate and necessary, but it is not endearing.) Yet the relevance of his satire is what makes this as much a novel for the 21st century as much as for Georgian England, and one doesn't have to know the first thing about Whigs and Tories to appreciate it.

In the era of so-called fake news, there is still a compelling wisdom in the shock of the Houyhnhnms on hearing "the thing which is not".

And who can resist both the humor or contemporary relevance of the description of learning at Lagado, which might as easily apply to many top American colleges today (and possibly our political authorities as well):

"In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments, and tools for all trades and manufactures; whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last for ever without repairing. All the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase a hundred fold more than they do at present; with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection; and in the mean time, the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes...."

Swift may have lived in a world dependent upon sailing ships and horsepower, but his mindset is decidedly modern. His criticism of slavery, class structure, colonialism, gender inequalities in education, and a whole host of troublesome conventions of his age are rather striking. As impressive was his willingness to risk the consequences of publishing a book that directly challenged the ruling party, the established seats of power in the ministry and courts, and the social customs of his fellow citizens. Swift, like Gulliver, is an honest writer who keeps his fellow human beings honest.

Needless to say, this is not a "children's book"; however, it's precisely the sort of book that children should read at an early age and then revisit at multiple times during their lives.
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Reading Progress

February 2, 2019 – Started Reading
February 9, 2019 – Shelved
February 9, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Irene (new)

Irene Zabytko Jacob--Wonderful review and great insights to this brilliant book. I love Gulliver too and didn't realize until very much later and as a university student how satirical and biting it was. Swift was indeed a misanthrope and that comes out even more in his essay, "A Modest Proposal' about having the poor eat their own children rather than being a burden to the country (again, prescient on many levels to our current political times). Yes, GULLIVER'S TRAVELS is a book kids should read, but mostly it is for adults because of the timeless and universal he so eloquently presents.


message 2: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Have you taken a look at Mr. Swift''s "A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick," Although I believe it was published by Jonathon Swift anonymously, it too has an interesting topic.


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