165 of 173 people found the following review helpful
I am certain that nearly every person in the Western world (and some beyond it) is familiar with the quintessential scene of "Gulliver's Travels," that of a man tied down to the ground and surrounded by tiny humans. I am equally certain however, that only a very small percentage of these people have actually read Jonathan Swift's satirical novel, first published in 1726. If you consider yourself a serious reader, then "Gulliver's Travels" is essential reading, one of the many classic novels that you simply *have* to read before you die.
Divided into four parts, "Gulliver's Travels" is presented as the historical memoirs of Lemuel Gulliver who narrates his strange adventures in undiscovered countries. In doing so, Swift explores and satirises almost every conceivable issue important in both his time and in ours: politics, religion, gender, science, progress, government, family and our basic ideas of defining humanity. As well as this, the novel is full of wonder and humour (some of it bordering on the vulgar!) and Swift's exploration of imaginary societies and countries is satire at its peak - no one before or since has reached Swift's mastery of this style.
Some of the more direct parodies concern people and events that have long since passed away, and as such an index or extensive background is required in order to fully understand the allusions that Swift is making. However, a far larger portion of the text discusses issues that are still relevant to today's readers, especially in the responsibilities of power and the limits to technological/scientific progression.
Part One: "A Voyage to Lilliput" is the most famous segment of the novel, and the context of the afore-mentioned "hostage episode". After taking leave of his family and country, Gulliver is washed up on the shores of an island inhabited by humanoid beings not more than six inches tall. Though at first suspicious, Gulliver soon earns the trust of the Lilliputian people who enlist their newfound giant in defending them from their enemies on the bordering island of Blefufeu - who likewise are desperate to use the giant in their war against Lilliput. Hmm, a squabble over what is considered a weapon capable of mass destruction. Sound familiar? This ability to place modern day references over older texts and their meanings is what separates literature from books - universal themes and concerns that do not age with time.
In Part Two, Gulliver reaches the polar opposite of Lilliput in "A Voyage to Brobdingnag", a country of giants where he becomes the helpless victim of a greedy farmer who exploits his diminutive stature to his own advantage. Displayed as a freak of nature, the tiny Gulliver is forced to perform circus tricks till he finally comes into the care of the royal court. Despite being cared for by the gentle farmer's daughter Grildrig, Gulliver has to survive wasp-attacks, hungry cats and a malicious dwarf before he is finally seized by a hunting bird and set adrift at sea.
One of the most appealing things about Gulliver's travels in both Lilliput and Brobdingnag is the disorientation he feels on re-entering the company of humans of a normal stature - each time they seem either too small or too big and Gulliver is constantly slouching or tip-toeing in an attempt to reconcile his body to what his mind tells him he should see. The best part is that we share this confusion with him, as we ourselves become accustomed to life in the tiny and giant worlds.
Part Three is the least known of the four parts, and for those who have read the novel, the least popular. I consider this unfortunate as it is more full of variety and wonderment than the other segments, contains some of his sharpest parodies and is my personal favourite `voyage' in the novel. Titled "A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Gluggdubdrib and Japan", it is easy to see that it this episode is filled with Swift's most creative inventions. It is here that Gulliver discovers a floating island, a race of immortals, a university in which they attempt to discover the answers to all things and an island of spirits who summon historical figures up out of the past. With everything from inward-eyed people to Alexander the Great to exploding dogs, Part Three has it all.
Finally, in Part Four, the novel reaches its most critical and thought-provoking statement on humankind in "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms". Gulliver reaches a country inhabited by a remarkable race of horses with the intelligence of humans - perhaps with even *more* intelligence than humans. Also living here is a disgusting race of beings known as "Yahoos" - filthy, greedy, slothful, lecherous creatures who embody every vice known to mankind - and who are suspiciously humanoid in shape and form. Gulliver is faced with a crisis of the soul: does he really come from the race of Yahoos? Will the Houyhnhnms accept him as one of their own or as a Yahoo? And how can he ever return home with the devastating wisdom he has gained? Swift presents a fascinating study on the dark side of humanity and the nobility of animals in the climax of the novel that is the most controversial, the most studied and the most memorable.
"Gulliver's Travels" is not an easy book to read; like all older literary novels it requires the attention and patience of the reader, has complicated and contemporary issues to discuss and a tendency to be a bit long-winded at times. But regardless of this, "Gulliver's Travels" is a fascinating and enjoyable read and one of those books that just *has* to be read during your lifetime - if not for any other reason but to say that you *have* read it. Though the scanty amount of reviews on this page is disheartening, "Gulliver's Travels" is a must-read, pure and simple.
I also recommend the Hallmark adaptation of Swift's novel - NOT to be watched instead of reading the book, but as a surprisingly faithful and intelligent miniseries that accompanies the novel well.
67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 1997
It's amazing how our perspective changes as we age. What we thought was important as children may now seem completely insignificant, replaced by entirely new priorities, priorities children wouldn't even understand. At the same time, things we used to take for granted, like having dinner on the table, being taken care of when we're ill, or getting toys fixed when they are broken, have become items on adult worry lists.
Your perspective on literature can change, too. Reading a story for a second time can give you a completely different view of it. "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, which I enjoyed as a sort of an adventure story when I was a kid, now reads as a harsh criticism of society in general and the institution of slavery in particular.
The same thing is true of "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift. The first thing I realized upon opening the cover of this book as a college student was that I probably had never really read it before.
I knew the basic plot of Lemuel Gulliver's first two voyages to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, home of the tiny and giant people, respectively, but he had two other voyages of which I was not even aware: to a land of philosophers who are so lost in thought they can't see the simplest practical details, Laputa, and to a land ruled by wise and gentle horses or Houyhnhnms and peopled by wild, beastly human-like creatures called Yahoos.
While this book has become famous and even beloved by children, Jonathan Swift was certainly not trying to write a children's book.
Swift was well known for his sharp, biting wit, and his bitter criticism of 18th century England and all her ills. This is the man who, to point out how ridiculous English prejudices had become, wrote "A Modest Proposal" which suggested that the Irish raise their children as cattle, to be eaten as meat, and thereby solve the problems of poverty and starvation faced in that country. As horrible as that proposal is, it was only an extension of the kinds of solutions being proposed at the time.
So, although "Gulliver's Travels" is entertaining, entertainment was not Swift's primary purpose. Swift used this tale of a guillable traveler exploring strange lands to point out some of the inane and ridiculous elements of his own society.
For example, in describing the government of Lilliput, Swift explains that officials are selected based on how well they can play two games, Rope-Dancing and Leaping and Creeping. These two games required great skill in balance, entertained the watching public, and placed the politicians in rather ridiculous positions, perhaps not so differently from elections of leaders in the 18th century and even in modern times.
Give this book a look again, or for the first time. Even in cases in which the exact object of Swift's satire has been forgotten, his sweeping social commentary still rings true. Sometimes it really does seem that we are all a bunch of Yahoos.
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2008
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift is classic work of satire and adventure that hardly needs my recommendation. Instead, let me comment on this edition published by Sterling. It's a nice hardcover with dustjacket and placeholder ribbon. There are a number of illustrations by Scott McKowen and an afterword by Arthur Pober. If you're looking for a inexpensive, but nice edition of Gulliver's Travels, this book would be a good choice.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2010
All I remembered about Gulliver's Travels was the Golden Book or other children's versions of the story that I read when I was still a wee young thing. The real story is much more thought provoking, and the style is quite interesting. Swift writes about his travels to various countries where he encounters people and customs far different from what he is used to. Nevertheless, he writes from an objective viewpoint without discussing what is wrong or right about any of the cultures he visits.
The last place he visits is a country that is populated by extremely intelligent horses, who after hearing Gulliver's explanation of his own country and government, give their impressions of what is wrong with the English government and monarchy. Very tactful, but it makes the points he wants readers to understand. Many similar ideas to Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" come out in the horses' discussions.
A bit long. I thought it might be a bit childish at first. But it was well worth reading from cultural, political and historical points of view.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2013
While other reviews seem focused on Swift's original novel, it would seem to me that anyone reading the reviews for this particular edition would be far more interested in the quality of the contents of the Norton Critical Edition, rather than the text itself. The text, after all, is a seminal classic satire, and even the worst printing and editing would find it very difficult to obscure it. Swift is brilliant, but that is not the focus of this review. Rather, I will be discussing the merits of this particular critical edition of his work.
This Norton Critical Edition is, as all Norton Critical Editions are, split up into three main parts - an authoritative version of the text with footnotes, a selection of works contemporary with the original text, and a selection of critical works dating from the original release down to the present.
The text is presented in its full form, complete with the original frontispiece, illustrations from the original edition, and footnotes where appropriate. The text is reproduced faithfully, and any decisions made by the editor are duly noted in footnotes. In fact, the editor has remained so true to the original text that he has retained the 18th century convention of capitalizing every single noun. This could, conceivably, be off-putting for some modern readers. Yet, for the scholarly audience doubtless intended for this edition, it seems appropriate that such a level of faithfulness be maintained. Indeed, the intended audience seems to color the entire volume, for, if a novice reader completely new to the text were to pick up the novel for the first time in this edition, the reader might find himself occasionally bewildered. The footnotes added by the editor are judicious, but perhaps too few. If a reader is not already somewhat familiar with the conventions of 18th century London or the accompanying vocabulary, he may need to come prepared with a dictionary. This, however, is no major problem; by and large the footnotes are accurate, informative, and brief, offered only where they need offering, and never rambling on in a vain display of the editor's knowledge.
The "Contexts" section is the shortest part of this edition, but is still an enjoyable and enriching read. Included in it are such sundry selections as an advertisement for Gulliver's Travels, Swift's correspondence to such contemporaries as John Gay and Alexander Pope, Pope's own poems inspired by Gulliver's travels (written through Lilliputian, Houyhnhnm, and Brobdingnagian personas), and a few selections from 18th century travelogues. These are all excellent editions to this edition - the travelogues in particular give modern readers a good sense of how Gulliver's Travels parodies a genre which has all but vanished from the modern literary scene.
The "Criticism" section greets the inquisitive reader with a wealth of lenses through which to view Swift's novel. Articles dating from shortly after the novel's release right down to modern times provide erudite and clear stances on how one might read the novel. Topics discussed include reading through the lenses of: satire and allegory, virtue and truth, politics, the novel as a genre, race and gender, science, the extent to which Swift's writing was influenced by London's obsessions with the peculiar and extreme, the author-character-reader interrelationship, and how the novel's frontispiece and paratexts can be read as an integral part of the novel. Reading all of these critical pieces gives one a diverse and well-rounded appreciation of the multifarious nature of Swift's unique satirical work.
While some minor quibbles could be made here and there, overall this is a very solid and effective scholarly edition. As long as those approaching this volume approach it with respect for its intended audience and are willing to engage with it as a scholarly book (and not just a children's adventure novel, as is so often the unfortunate case), this clear and entertaining edition of one of the greatest works of satire ever written props the original text up on a well-polished pedestal of context and criticism, all to the reader's delight.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 1999
Gulliver's Travels is an excellent book. In it Swift satirizes what he thought were the foibles of his time, in politics, religion, science, and society. In Part One Lemuel Gulliver is shipwrecked on Lilliput where the inhabitants are only 6 inches tall. The rivalry between Britain and France is there satirized. In Part Two he is marooned on the subcontinent of Brobdingnag where the inhabitants are giants. The insignificance of many of mankind's achievements are there satirized. Next in Part Three Gulliver is taken aboard the floating island of Laputa, where Swift takes the opportunity to satirize medicine and science altogether - incredibly Swift did not make up the crazy experiments he describes; all were sponsored at one time or another by the Royal Society. Finally in Part Four Gulliver is marooned by mutineers on the island of the Houyhnhynms, in which Swift takes his parting shot at human society - presenting them in degraded form as the Yahoos. Most people read no further in the book than Brobdingnag - I urge you to read the rest.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 1999
Swift's classic satire of English and European governments, societies, and cultures should be required reading of every college student. (Except for those who appear to be in law school as is the earlier reviewer who referred to Swift as being an "18th century Unabomber." Swift may have been conservative in his beliefs and not cared much for individuals such as Robert Boyle, who is satirized in the book, but he was not violent. Perhaps our "law student/reviewer" is offended by Swift's biting satire of lawyers and politicians in part four.) The version I read was an annotated edition by Isaac Asimov and contained many passages that had been deleted by previous publishers. Asimov's comments enable the reader to more fully appreciate Swift's satire. In part one of the novel, a ship's surgeon, Lemuel Gulliver, is shipwreaked and finds himself on the island of Lilliput, the inhabitants all being only six inches high. This section is great satire of English politics and wars. Royal ponp, feuds amongst the populace, and wars are made to look rediculous. In the second part, Gulliver finds himself in Brobdingnag in which he is only six "inches" tall (relatively speaking). This part forms another satire of European governments. In part three, Gulliver visits the flying island of Laputa where shades of ancient scholars can be called up. This section is a satire on philosophers and scientists. Scientists are portrayed as men so wrapped up intheir speculations as to be totally useless in practical affairs. Absurd experiments are described (for example, extracting sunlight from cucumbers (but, extracting energy from cucumbers and other plants is no longer so absurd Jonathan)). Also described in this third part are the Struldbergs, men and women who are immortal but who turn out to be miserable and pitiable. In part four, Gulliver travels to the Land of the Houyhnhnms, horses with intelligence but who have no passion or emotion. The word "Yahoo" originates in this part. READ IT!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2010
Gulliver's Travels: my first book ever on the Kindle(tm). Well, first about the mechanics of it all. I know, based on some reviews I have read, some versions of stories are poorly formatted or the font is bad or unadjustable or what have you--thankfully none of those issues was present here. It was a joy to be able to glide through the pages, looking words up at the speed of thought, never losing my place, and not having to stare at a backlit display for a change.
None of this concerning Mr. Swift, though, who wrote this novel without even knowing of a typewriter or electricity. The book begins with Gulliver, an English gentleman of the early eighteenth century, talking of his love for travel at sea; I was beginning to feel as though I were reading Robinson Crusoe again. Things change quickly though as Gulliver lands on the land of Lilliput where the inhabitants are a mere half of a foot in height.
Here begins Swift's parody of human culture that continues throughout Mr. Gulliver's three other tours of duty in the novel. Swift takes a characteristic or two of human nature and satirizes it with each civilization Gulliver encounters. The Lilliputians allow him to poke fun at politics and underhandedness, with every cutting each other's throat to win the king's favor. The Brobdingnagians give note to mankind's frailty, with poor Gulliver fearing for his life at every turn while the giants around him tiptoe to assure his safety.
The third voyage lands Gulliver on an island in the middle of nowhere. He is rescued by the flying island of the Laputians, who are stuck with their heads in the clouds. I should say that Swift has a disdain for those who live lives in the stratosphere of philosophy and mathematics; the Laputians seem to be unable to function at all since their thoughts are always elsewhere.
The forth, final, and most important voyage made by the narrator is to the land of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms are hyperevolved horses who live their lives and run their society by rational means only. In that land there, there is a race of humans called Yahoos who live like wild animals. Swift's uses these two species to dichotomize our conflicting natures: the Houyhnhnms are our cognitive, rational faculties--our divinity--, while the Yahoos are the basal, animal-like natural side of us. Neither of these two polar opposites can be reproved for being what it is. However, it is our rational and refined halves that we wish to see have the upper hand. Unable to reconcile these two, the narrator goes a bit mad, and when he returns to England, becomes reclusive.
I was thrilled with this book. Though I found some parts to be a bit slow-moving, the narrator dwelling in picayune details at times, the book truly is a work of art. This definitely opens the doors for Swift as an author to me.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2004
Who would have expected that I would come away from this book liking it so very much? Trying to read it on my own, I failed, but reading it in class helped me to see it in context, and appreciate it as a funny, thoughtful, and sometimes cruel work, a satire that can be real fun and thought-provoking once you get into the right mood for reading it.
Jonathan Swift was an Irish-born Tory who possessive of a famous aversion to humantiy in general. (Or so I am apt to classify him. There is something charming about misanthropes, one can really sympathize with them when one is cranky.) His Captain Lemuel Gulliver ends up stranded in various wondrous and edifying lands. I needn't tell you about Lilliput (six inch high people) and Brobdingnag (giants), but you might have forgotten Laputa, the floating island, and the land of the H----'s (don't bother me with the bloody spelling), those uber-intelligent horses. It's that last part, with the H----'s that is pretty shocking even today. You and me are both Yahoos of a kind, and Gulliver sails back to his people in raft with a sail made from Yahoo-skins. With Yahoo meat as provisions.
But there are lots of disturbing, warped things in this book. I remember passages in Brobdingnag with the most fondness. There Gulliver, reduced to the status of a plaything, is quite helpless, and delightfully so. He is dropped into a bowl of cream by a dwarf and embarrasingly discommoded by a pet monkey. The ladies at the court take a perverse delight in bouncing him up and down on their breasts. Gulliver, being tiny, is able to note the physical human imperfections of his captors magnified--cancerous lumps, blemishes of the skin, moles and wrinkles appear in all their sordidness. And what interesting things these are to read about, in retrospect. I think that we as modern human beings--I mean as Westerners, swamped in our materialism and complacency--need to sample the muck in our "entertainment" sometimes, just to get in touch with reality. Tear yourself away from MTV, from the supermodels and the actors, from semi-kiddie porn anime, and admit that the physicality of our human bodies can be pretty disgusting.
And also the psychology of Us, when we don't study ourselves and our values--
Gulliver himself is a little man, a contemptible nincompoop most of the time. I didn't notice it while I was reading the book, but afterwards, I thought about it, and decided so. When he recommends gunpowder to the King of Brobdingnag, he even comes across as significantly--stupid. (Is there logic in presenting a country of giants with the ability to make gunpowder, when you and the rest of your kind are 1/100th of their size? Derr. Not really. Even if you want to suck up to said king.)
But it's Swift on whom I can't quite place my finger... The more I think about him alongside his book, the more ambiguous he seems. Does he really mean to present the values of the H----'s as Good with a capital G in all particulars? (I was struck with their arrogant bitchiness, myself. Perhaps Swift would dislike me.) How about the Lilliuputian way of raising children, is that meant to be construed as desirable? (I do like it better than the cruel Puritanical strain of childraising, all that honor your mother & father ad nauseum beyond the bounds of compassion kind of crap--but the Lilliputian way doesn't seem to allow for that thing called love, either...)
I dunno. You tell me.
Ahh, but don't tell me Gulliver's Travels is outdated, or boring, 'cause I won't believe you.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
On the eve of a new movie release based on Gulliver's Travels I was asked to review the book being re-released to coincide with the new Jack Black movie. I accepted the challenge fully expecting to receive a modernized, cannibalized carcass of the original work. When the book arrived, I was surprised and delighted to see it's the entire work in its original form. However, now I had a dilemma on my hands: What does one say about a true classic masterwork that has survived for centuries? As I began re-reading the book I hadn't read in better than thirty years, I was still in a quandary as to what this usually less than humble reviewer could say about a brilliant masterwork that hadn't been said hundreds of times before. The fact is, I can't improve on what was said before, but I could remind people of the enjoyment such a book can bring to the reader. In this soundbite world, I imagine few have read and enjoyed the original work. Avid readers know what the rest of the world seems to have forgotten, the pure joy of a brilliant masterwork. Granted, I have enjoyed the many previous movies based on Gulliver's Travels and fully expect to enjoy the new Jack Black movie, but having been on movie sets, and in the cutting room, I know that a movie can rarely do a complete novel justice, unless they want to make a movie six to eight hours long. For time reasons, it simply isn't possible to include everything in a movie that's in a book. I urge everyone that enjoys a great story to both get and enjoy the book version of Gulliver's Travels, and go see the movie, but not necessarily in that order. Enjoy the book for the literary masterwork it is, and the movie for the comedic genius that is Mr. Black.