The vision of an ideal place has long excited creative minds, and since the publication, in 1516, of Thomas More's Utopia,...



The vision of an ideal place has long excited creative minds, and since the publication, in 1516, of Thomas More's Utopia, these visions have gone under that generic name. To recapitulate the entire western history of this genre is a big task, and the Manuels have indeed capped a long-standing interest with a very big book. Going to the roots, they begin with the Judeo-Christian concepts of paradise and the millenium, and the Greek preoccupation with the just city. More's book owed much to both these strands, but its literary structure, employing the artifice of a journey to a far-off place, ushered in the modern variant. After More, though, it sometimes becomes difficult to see just what qualifies as a utopia, and the Manuels intentionally keep their definitions vague. In addition to the accepted utopias of Campanella and Bacon, they include the radical millenarianism of Thomas Munzer as well as the radical sects of the English Civil War and the communist musings of Karl Marx. Utopian thought, as the Manuels see it, is not just a literary genre but a fundamental element in movements of radical social change. That the left has no monopoly on utopian visions is shown by inclusion of the eugenic fantasies inspired by Darwin--which, in turn, helped inspire the utopias of science fiction as well as the dystopias, like Orwell's 1984, special to the 20th century. The Manuels decry the paucity of recent attempts at utopian writing, though they praise the architectural utopias of Paolo Solari and others traceable to the Italian Renaissance. As intellectual historians, their main task has been to gather it all in, to put it all in order and tidy it up, which they have done extremely well. But though they offer some superficial observations on the larger historical contexts of various utopias--the impact of science or the Reformation, for example--they do not attempt either extensive critical interpretation or historical explanation of the emergence of the genre itself, nor of its relation to other forms of thought. A careful and complete history likely to stimulate further study, but limited by its own restricted aims.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0674931858

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979