"Thus I am wholly convinced that unless private property is entirely done away with, there can be no fair or just distribution of goods" "When I run over in my mind the various commonwealths flourishing today, so help me God, I can see nothing in them, but a conspiracy of the rich, who are fattening up their own interests under the name and title of the commonwealth" "If money disappeared, so would fear, anxiety, worry, toil, and sleepless nights. Even poverty, which seems to need money more than anything else for its relief, would vanish if money were entirely done away with. Sir Thomas More's Utopia is littered with seemingly revolutionary thoughts and ideas like those above; has been claimed as an early example of medievalism, modernism, socialism, communism; it has also been claimed by protestants, catholics, idealists and even Nazis, but why on earth would a reactionary churchman like Thomas More write and publish such a tract? It has to be a joke doesn't it?. If it is then the joke is on More because his invented Utopia has passed into common usage today as an ideal world. More's story is simplicity itself. He is introduced by his friend Peter Giles to Raphael Hythloday, who is visiting London after a voyages across uncharted seas searching for new lands. He has chanced upon the island of Utopia where he believes he has found the perfect society and is eager to return. Before Raphael can tell his story of the wonders of Utopia, he describes a dinner he had attended with Cardinal Morton and a distinguished lawyer. More uses a first person narrative for Raphael to describe the evils of the way England is currently ruled paying particular attention to the plight of the poor and the infirm. Rafael's knowledge of foreign countries and the society's he has witnessed on his travels leads him to propose alternative ways of dealing with the ills of England. The Utopians are introduced into the conversation and More and Peter Giles are eager to learn more details of how their society is organised and so they arrange to have dinner with Raphael and his descriptions of Utopia take up the whole of Book Two. Utopia's geography (although not where it can be found), its cities, its social organisation, its work habits, its relations with other countries, moral philosophy, art of warfare and their religion are all lovingly described by Raphael. There are no interruptions from More or his friend as a picture of Utopia emerges. Of course there are contradictions in the story and it soon emerges that a Utopian society is based on discipline at the expense of liberty. The pursuit of pleasure for all and the good of the commonwealth cannot be achieved without restrictions on freedom that would be unacceptable to people in Thomas Mores's circle. A point he makes on the final page of his book when he allows himself to think about what he has heard: "......but my chief concern was to the basis of the whole system, that is, their communal living, and their moneyless economy. This one thing alone takes away all the nobility, magnificence, splendour, and majesty which (in the popular view) are considered the true ornaments of any nation" Utopia was published in 1516 just about the same time as copies of Machiavelli's "The Prince" were appearing and on the face of it the books are worlds apart. Machiavelli's advice to his Prince is based on pragmatism and commercialism with the basic premise that a ruler always needs to be tougher and/or fairer than his opponents to maintain his position and/or increase his power.. More's Utopia is based on a shared communalism where everybody benefits from just laws with the pursuit of pleasure for all being the chief aim. However running underneath both books is an undercurrent of pessimism; a pessimism that bites deep into the human psyche. I think that Machiavelli and More took a similar view of mankind, they saw around them people whose natural instincts were totally selfish, anarchic and sinful, whose wilful pursuit of riches and power had to be kept in check. Thomas More as far as we can judge was an ambiguous character; "a man for all seasons", in his early life particularly he was much respected in humanist circles, a friend of Erasmus and known for his wit and sagacity, however when he became active in public life; C R Elton says that "he remained determined to apply coercion and judgement to dangerous sinners, rather than compassion and comprehension." (he was instrumental in enforcing the ultimate penalty of burning for heretics). There is evidence that he regretted the publication of Utopia and certainly when his circle of friends commented on it they thought it was a delightful little joke. The way More told his story especially by including real people in book one, convinced some people at the time of the validity of Utopia, and while today we are sure that the island of Utopia does not exist, there are still plenty of people who can read into More's book serious political philosophy. I think it is a satire and no doubt an indictment of early 16th century society, but Raphael Hythloday's Utopia is an excuse for the witty More to poke as much fun as possible at the society in which he lived. It is a book that is still open to many different interpretations and will produce plenty of ammunition for debate on the ills of current society and how we would like to see a perfect community organised. It is a fun read and at only 85 pages can easily be read in one sitting. I read the Norton Critical Edition, which has some excellent critical essays following a clear and absorbing translation of the text by Robert M Adams. Some contextual information is also included along with extracts from letters that were written by More and his friends, which add immensely to the enjoyment of More's little book. There are also extracts from other authors attempts at defining a Utopia, which may be of interest. This is a classic that I thoroughly enjoyed and so I rate it at 5 stars.