Utopia: The Influential Classic
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In 1516, a book was published in Latin with the enigmatic Greek-derived word as its title. Utopia-which could mean either "good-place" or "no-place"-gives a traveler's account of a newly discovered island somewhere in the New World where the inhabitants enjoy a social order based purely on natural reason and justice. As the traveler describes the harmony, prosperity, and equality found there, a dramatic contrast is drawn between the ideal community he portrays and the poverty, crime, and often frightening political conditions of 16th century Europe. Written by Sir Thomas More (1477-1535)-then a rising intellectual star of the Renaissance and ultimately the advisor and friend of Henry VIII who was executed for his devoutly Catholic opposition to the king-Utopia is as complex as its author.In the form of a Platonic dialogue, Utopia explores topics such as money, property, crime, education, religious tolerance, euthanasia, and feminism. Claimed as a paean to communism (Lenin had More's name inscribed on a statue in Moscow) as often as it has been seen as a defense of traditional medieval values, Utopia began the lineage of utopian thinkers who use storytelling to explore new possibilities for human society-and remains as relevant today as when it was written in Antwerp 500 years ago.