1001 Book Review: Erewhon by Samuel Butler
Erewhon by Samuel Butler
Published in: 1872
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Find it here:Erewhon (Dover Thrift Editions)
Synopsis (from Amazon): Erewhon (an anagram for “nowhere”) is a faraway land where sickness is a punishable crime, criminals receive compassionate medical treatment, and machines are banned (for fear they’ll evolve and become the masters of man). Butler’s entertaining and thought-provoking Utopian novel takes aim at such hallowed institutions as family, church, and mechanical progress; its remarkable prescience in anticipating future sociological trends adds a special relevance for today’s readers.
Check out our reviews below:
Book Worm’s Review
While I would probably only give this book 3 stars for reading enjoyment I have added the 4th star for it being so forward looking in terms of when it was written.
The narrator of the novel is a young man who has left England for an unnamed foreign country where he believes he can make his fortune. While there, he discovers a passage way through the mountains to the land of the Erewhonians who believe they live in Utopia. In Erewhon a person can be punished for being ill, ugly and having bad luck, while the deliberate act of committing a crime such as embezzlement is treated more leniently.
The book is very philosophical in nature with a lot of it taken up by showing the society of Erewhon and how by seemingly logical debate they have arrived at an illogical situation, particularly in the recent history in terms of machines and what is acceptable to eat.
The novel has a sci fi feel to it, especially in the chapters relating to the unborn and the use of machines. In simple terms the unborn are alien souls looking for bodies and the machines will take over the world. Sound familiar? I was thinking Terminator and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The style reminded me of a Jules Verne adventure mixed with Gulliver’s Travels.
Book Worm and I have been out of sync in our ratings for the last few books. I did not enjoy this book at all. Yes, it’s clever and at times funny, but it got old very quickly for me. Butler tears apart all parts of the society including education, religion, and the legal system. He also makes reference to Darwin’s theory of evolution and considering when the book was written, Butler does deserve credit for predicting certain things. However, the philosophy felt heavy handed (one of the qualities that turns me off in books) and while advanced for its time, today feels very dated.
As Book Worm mentions above, the style is somewhat similar to Jonathan Swift’s works but Swift’s pieces are typically short and he gets to the point immediately. This book was 300 pages of the same point reiterated over and over again. The plot was thin and seemed primarily drawn to illustrate his philosophical musings and to serve as a backdrop to his social critiques. Much of the book reads like a series of essays rather than a novel. Some chapters, particularly the chapters on the development of machines, were tedious and overly detailed for my tastes. I did laugh out loud a few times but most of the time I was bored. The seemingly never-ending chapter on machines almost killed me.
Try it for yourself and tell us with whom you agree? You can find the book for free here on the Project Gutenberg site