Completing the set of early-modern satires is Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. This book has seen a ton of editions and you can't go wrong with most of them. I mostly chose this edition because it comes in hardcover and it has original illustrations by Jon Corbino. It is a solid and comfortable size. The Corbino illustrations are interesting at times. My only complaint would be that the Corbino illustrations rarely show up very close to the related scene. Pick it up if you want a nice hardcover with some weird art as a bonus or just stick with the Dover edition otherwise. Either option is amazingly cheap.
The story of Gulliver's Travels is one of those stories that is "well-known", largely through numerous adaptations, e.g. movies and cartoons. But like many popular stories known primarily through adaptations, many details and themes have gone missing over the years. In that way, it reminded me a lot of H.G. Wells' Time Machine. For example, many adaptations focus on Lilliput and Brobdingnag, the land of tiny people and the land of giants, respectively. Gulliver's time in those lands makes up only half the book. This still leaves the land where they have floating islands powered by lodestone and adamant and the land of noble, intelligent horse people. It was also a bit racier than the child-friendly adaptations. For example, I do not remember ever seeing a version as kid where Gulliver whips his dick out to extinguish a fire, as he does in the book. They also leave out the complications of clothing and defecation in differently-scaled lands. This process has, over the years, shifted the story from a feeling of science fiction foreshadowing works such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World to a kind of fantastic fairy tale. Literary adaptation is simultaneously both a creative and a destructive force.
While I say the book had the feeling of science fiction, it is primarily intended to be a satire. These things are not mutually exclusive. Swift is broadly attempting to criticize the politics and culture of his own age. In particular, there is something noted in various ways in each of the lands that remains true even in our own modern American society: we really do not put much thought in to selecting leaders. For example, we really do not seem to care all that much if our leaders are even remotely virtuous. One need only look at the products of our presidential elections. In your everyday life, what would you entrust to a former coke-head, a serial adulterer, or even a self-proclaimed pussy-grabber? If you have any sense, the answer is, "Not much." And yet these things are not stumbling blocks to the most important job in the country. After the fact, we are often astounded by the lies and crimes of our leaders. How do we not see that immoral people will continuing being immoral once we elect them? How do we still not see it when they engage in the predictable bad behavior and we are offered a chance to reelect them? It is a madness born out of a society that can not even say "virtue" as anything other than a sexual euphemism. This was as much as problem in Swift's day as it is in our own. It seems to have weighed heavily upon him. And his gift to posterity is to share this burden with us. It is strange how hard it can sometimes be to be grateful for a useful and necessary thing.
The ending of the book provides a sort of warning for those who gaze too long into the abyss of humanity's flaws. Gulliver spends so much time away from flawed humanity that, when he finally returns home for the last time, he can not even see his own family as anything other than a bunch of ugly and disgusting beasts. Strangely, I have not fallen into this trap because, when push comes to shove, I am nearly as resigned as I am cynical. While I see humanity as very flawed, I do not really expect anything else. I hope for more from myself but I do not really have any inclination to hold people in my everyday life to any real standard. I just accept their faults as normal. Christianity also has its own way of framing and resolving this conflict: While we are all born with original, we are also still made in the image of God and we each have a shot at redemption. If you find yourself going down Gulliver's path, grab one of these sorts of logical lifelines as soon as possible. Otherwise, only misery can follow.
On other reading fronts, Aquinas' Summa is still on-going. I took a bit of a break for a while and so progress stopped for a while. I am now trying to get back in to it with a little over half of it to go. I have the nugget of at least one more post on that kicking around in my brain. On the French front, I have picked up the complete works of Pascal but it is an incredible amount of text without the crutch of a dual-language edition. I am also reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Incerto. It isn't usual Great Books material but I may write something about it anyway.