This book did very little for me in high school, so when it was offered as a Daily Deal in July of last year I leapt at the chance to see if several decades of experience in the world would change my tepid adolescent reaction. It is, after all, one of our Classics, a work that needs to be in everyone’s mental arsenal. The adolescent me was vapid and shallow. Surely, I’d get more out of the experience now.
Nope. I’m still as vapid and shallow as ever.
Yes, I “get” the book. That’s the whole problem. Gulliver’s Travels is one of those books whose point is so obvious that the reader (or listener) realizes very early on that that copy of Cliff’s Notes won’t be necessary. Yes, we humans are horrible, contradictory creatures worthy of ridicule. Our manners and mores can be held up for constant criticism. Our wars are nothing more than wastes of resources. Our pride is pointless. The grandest among us is nothing more than a Lilliputian or Yahoo in disguise. And to make the thing even more hopelessly horrible Gulliver, in his final contempt for his own species, becomes even more contemptible than you or me.
Gullible Gulliver is Everyman, taking in all he sees and hears uncritically, much as I did in my first Political Science class in high school. I was by turns a dedicated Hobbesian, a committed Marxist, a zealous Jeffersonian, depending on what we happened to be reading that week. In Gulliver’s case, “we” (you and me, the reader or listener) get the ironies, but the pleasure derived from the exercise soon palls.
There is also some annoying Enlightenment oversimplification at work here, especially in matters of religion. The essential dispute between Protestants and Catholics—the different understandings of Jesus’ words, “This is my body”—is lampooned as a disagreement about the best way to attack a soft-boiled egg. As silly and pointless as many human activities can admittedly be, this isn’t one of them. Yes, I enjoyed the picture of Balnibarbi’s blind pursuit of “science” as possibly Swift’s most “relevant” commentary for our Modern Times (a passage that probably provokes the scientifically-minded as much as the Big-and-Little-Endians chafed me). Swift seems to be criticizing everything and defending nothing—except possibly human reason. But by the end we humans are revealed as nothing but Yahoos in fancy dress.
Maybe that’s what’s at the heart of my dislike of this book—the sense in the end that nothing really matters. Certainly that’s how Gulliver feels by the end. Cast out of Houyhnhnm society on the charge that he is nothing more than a dressed-up Yahoo, he holds no grudge but accepts their verdict with nary a shadow of resentment. In fact, he spends the last pages pining for their society and counting the ways that England falls short of that equine paradise. Maybe I do need some Cliff’s Notes after all, because I really have no idea how I am supposed to react. Is Gulliver a complete fool? Are the just criticisms of society made throughout the book to be believed? Has Gulliver just taken them too far? Unfortunately, after contemplating these questions for a few minutes I have to admit I don’t really care.
Even David Hyde Pierce’s performance is something of a disappointment. An actor who could wring the last fluid ounce of humor out of the briefest remark on “Frasier”, his effort here seems lackluster. Maybe Swift’s writing gave him nothing to hold on to (a distinct possibility). Or, maybe he was just out of sympathy with the book, too.
I mistakenly thought this book was for a younger audience....i.e. if I am fifty-something I should have gotten to it earlier. Not so. Each "world" he travels to is an ironic joke directed at segments of regular society. Should we divide along party lines over the method by which you crack your eggs (big-end crackers or small-end crackers)? David Hyde Pierce did an outstanding job. I have not seen the printed version of the book and thus can only imagine how he sounded out some of the languages. He did a particularly good job with the horses. A great book and a great performance.
Love to read, and Audible has made the two-hour daily commute enjoyable!
I have tried to read this book, but found it difficult. I decided to give it a go when I saw this edition narrated by David Hyde Pierce. Previously I hadn't gotten past the Brobdingnag chapter. I knew it was a satire, but didn't realize it was also science fiction (3rd chapter with a "floating island") and is very earthy.
Gulliver has four travels and he progressively realizes how corrupt his race/nation is. I read one description of the stories that is great for summarizing - little (Lilliput) to big (Brobdingnag), and math/music (Laputa mainly) to natural (Houyhnhnm - which is horse language). Along the way Gulliver compares the government of each country to his own and finds they are worse or better.
The audio book was superb - especially David Hyde Pierce's perfection of the Houyhnhnm pronunciation.
Former steelworker from Buffalo NY retired after 40 yrs. as a Registered Nurse. Viet Vet, did a lot of theater in HS... e-Clectic for sure
I got this as a book when I was 5. Six decades later I finally appreciate and understand it. The reader adds much to this work. I feel the story was acted as well as read and that made it all the more enjoyable. For his time Mr. Swift must have been a true iconoclast.
I know it's a classic but it is well worth the time to re-examine in this form. You'll enjoy it I'm sure.
I took longer to read this than planned, I found some sections rather dry. Overall it was fine, just a memoir account of the hazard-ridden journeys to some unknown lands.
It had the element of the fantastic (and sometimes very creative) in the descriptions of the inhabitants and cultures he encounters, but almost more notable to me was his descriptions of Western European culture to them. It was as much a social commentary and criticism of 'civilization' as it was a story of exotic new places. I was less impressed by his initial accounts of Liliput as the theme was familiar to me from pop culture references, as was some of his life among the giants of Brogdingnag. Laputa was quite new, and the floating island brought to mind the zeppelin affinity of the steampunk style. His final adventures were the most transformative for himself, and the most critical of humankind, but I didn't care much for it. At that point his themes and low opinions seemed predictable. I did pity him though, when he was 'rescued' against his will by the Portuguese captain. Quite unreasonable of them to simply force a man to leave with them. I don't suppose anyone would have considered that a shipwrecked, mutinied against and long-from-home traveler might not WANT to be rescued, but good heavens when he protested no one even bothered to ask him why or what he was about. Oy.
Like I said, some good bits of adventure, but more than anything a commentary of the state of Western Europe a few centuries ago (though little has fundamentally changed in the intervening time).
Wonderful performance by Pierce. I can't imagine at the moment what some of those foreign words must have resembled on the page, but he articulated even the most outlandish syllables Swift crated as if they were common vernacular. I couldn't help but picture Dr. Niles Crane sitting in a smoking jacket in some posh library in a leather chair reading aloud. ;P
I'm a web developer based out of Sacramento, I listen to books while I work, and love audible.
I had always thought this was a kids story. This is not, it's a political satire that kids would not get, and apparently many adults didn't get either, if they thought it was a kids story.
All should read this book.
David Hyde Pierce does a terrific job bringing the opinions of the narrator to life. His performance was great.
I just didn't enjoy the story much, so it was a chore to finish the book. Thank goodness for the narration of David Hyde Pierce, which brought some fun to the listening.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
After foolishly watching Jack Black's abominable Gulliver's Travels movie on TV, I had to purge myself of the experience by re-reading Jonathan Swift's original novel. The imaginative, humorous, and scathing depiction of human nature and civilization in Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) set me right with the world. Ah, it's salutary to be reminded that we are all Yahoos! The novel uses the device of an Everyman traveling to imaginary cultures and living among their fantastic denizens to reflect back on our own cultures and selves in quite humbling ways. Swift's first person narrator and alter-ego, Lemuel Gulliver, is an English ship's surgeon who likes his country but can't resist traveling. Over sixteen years, by chance he ends up in various lands hitherto unknown to Europeans, among them Lilliput (whose people are about six inches tall and have accordingly tiny flora, fauna, and things), Brobdingnag (whose people are about sixty feet tall and have accordingly giant flora, fauna, and things), Laputa (whose people live on an adamantine island that floats in the sky), Luggnagg (among whose people are a handful of senile immortals), and the country of the Houyhnhnms (whose people are a race of wise, reasonable, and clean-living horses).
Swift makes the major places and peoples feel "real" and interesting on their own terms. He imagines neat details about what it would be like to be a giant among the Lilliputians (e.g., extinguishing a palatial fire by urinating on it) and a small animal among the Brobdingnagians (e.g., climbing up and down ladders to read giant books). He entertainingly extrapolates to absurd extremes the Laputians' excessive pursuit of mathematics, music, and innovation, rendering the learned men so engrossed in their speculations that servants must "flap" them on the eyes or ears or mouth to get them to attend when something vital to see or hear or say turns up. And he presents the Houyhnhnms as perfectly reason-based beings, with obvious merits (health, chastity, honesty, loyalty, etc.) and less obvious demerits (a lack of sympathy for the presence of a certain Yahoo from abroad).
At the same time, Swift uses all those places to critique 18th-century England and Europe in such a way that applies to our own 21st century world, because, after all people are people no matter when or where they live. He satirizes our political factions (the Lilliputian court is divided between High-Heel and Low-Heel wearing men), ambitious gymnastics (Lilliputians who want high positions in court must dance on a tight rope), and religious disputes (Lilliputians who break an egg at the small end persecute those who break it at the big end and both sides invoke their holy book). He satirizes our complicated law system and career military system through the Brobdingnagian law against the interpretation of laws (which may be no longer than the 22 letters in their alphabet) and custom of fielding an army as needed without pay. And he satirizes our dysfunctional governments by having a learned man suggest that because the human body and the body politic are equivalent, all Senators should be dosed with Palliatives, Laxatives, and the like, which would beget unanimity and shorten debates. After Gulliver interviews spirits of the dead raised for him by a necromancer of Glubdugdribgub, he condemns "modern History," by which "the World had been misled by prostitute Writers" who have made cowards, fools, and traitors appear to be heroic leaders and obscured the fact that the only successful "great Enterprizes and Revolutions" in human history have arisen from "contemptible Accidents."
When among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver discourses on the unworthy causes of war among European nations and lists the weapons devised by humans to kill and maim as many people and destroy as many cities as possible. He tells his equine master about lawyers, "a Society of men" paid to "wholly confound. . . the very Essence of Truth and Falsehood, or Right and Wrong." In explaining money, he points out "that the Bulk of our People were forced to live miserably, by labouring every Day for small Wages, to make a few live plentifully." One of the funniest moments in the novel is when Gulliver lists the many civilized Yahoo vices and crimes he is free from while living among the Houyhnhnms, of which the following is a small sample: "here were no Gibers, Censurers, Backbiters, Pickpockets, Highwaymen, House-breakers, Attorneys, Bawds, Buffoons, Gamesters, Politicians, Wits, Splenetics, tedious Talkers, Controvertists, Ravishers, Murderers, Robbers, Virtuosos . . . no Lords, Fiddlers, Judges, or Dancing-Masters." His master's conclusion is that we use our small share of reason "to aggravate our natural Corruptions, and to acquire new ones, which Nature had not given us."
So urgent is Swift's need to puncture our pride that excrement and urine play comically gross roles in each of the Four Parts of his novel, from embarrassing accounts of how he "discharged the Necessities of Nature" in Lilliput and Brobdingnag to moments like meeting a scientist who is obsessively researching a way to return human ordure to its original food content.
I found David Hyde Pierce to be a capable but not wonderful reader with one exception: he pronounces Houyhnhnm words with a charming hint of a neigh.
Readers who want plenty of suspenseful and exciting action and adventure might do well to read a different book. But readers who love the English language beautifully, bitterly, imaginatively, and humorously employed by a keen (if misanthropic) observer of humankind would like Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver explains that he could overlook human vices and follies if only people would not be so proud of themselves. If you feel proud to be human ("the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin" according to the Brobdingnag king), reading this book ought to take you down a peg or two.
Say something about yourself!
Mr. Pierce does a great job narrating. The notion 'Miles' is reading this does not interfere with the quality of the text. He's pretty perfect. Knowing this story from movies only, I was pleased to hear it as written. It's humorous and satirical, lots of 'potty' stuff, full of fantasy and Swift's personal politics and humanism. It's wonderful, for me, to hear an author of the period, blast the cruelty and evil of imperialism for it's destruction and massacres of lands and inhabitants, for greed, and in the name of God and goodness.
A lover of audiobooks of all kinds, since childhood, when long car journeys were accompanied by Discworld stories. @ReineDesLivres (Twitter)
Finding a narrator for Gulliver's Travels will always be a difficult choice. Think of any great actor and you'll find them reading this classic tale. David Hyde Pierce will forever be remembered as Nile Crane on Frasier, so it's an inspired choice for him to narrate this signature performance of Gulliver's Travels. He reads with drama, sense and skill, bringing life to the story with an appropriate sense of curiosity and discovery. To this story of travelling and adventure, of empires and the spreading and sharing of cultures and knowledge, his accent brings a particular emphasis which both suits the story and gives it new inflection. It's a great reading of this masterpiece which is well worth hearing and enjoying.