Monday, February 27, 2012

New Atlantis - Francis Bacon

1627; 52 pages (but I Kindled it).  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Philosophy.  Overall Rating : 4*/10.

    Setting sail from Peru in the 1620's, a ship of explorers runs smack dab into a fierce Pacific storm.  Just when all hope appears lost, the crew finds an island haven.  And it's not even deserted; it has towns, fresh water, lush farmlands, and white, English-speaking  inhabitants - all living in harmony with each other.

    So how did they get here?  And how is it they know so much about Europe, when no one in Europe has seen or heard of them?  Most of all, why does everything seem so perfect here?

What's To like...
    Forget the plotline; New Atlantis is really Bacon's musings on how to achieve a Utopian society.  He drapes a bare-bones story around it so that he doesn't sound preachy, which is quite clever.

    Francis Bacon was, among other things, a scientist (the father of the "scientific method" or empiricism), a statesman (Lord Chencellor), and an ardent (Anglican) churchgoer.  The world of New Atlantis reflects this.  Those who govern do so only to promote the welfare of the people.  Science and Engineering invent things that make life better, with no adverse side-consequences.  And Jews and Christians co-exist here, each offering fervent prayers to their respective gods.  Children honor their parents, the land yields an abundance of food, and the natives freely share with our band of bedraggled sailors.  What more can you ask for?

    New Atlantis also allows Bacon to share some views on things like the origins of the "uncivilized" New World natives, homosexuality, and polygamy.  He also makes some startling technological predictions.  Things like glasses, airplanes, submarines, hearing aids, amplifiers, telescopes, miscroscopes, and genetic engineering.

Kewlest New Word...
Boscage : a growth of trees or shrubs; a thicket.

    "But thus you see we maintain a trade not for gold, silver, or jewels; nor for silks; nor for spices; nor any other commodity of matter; but only for God's first creature, which was Light: to have light (I say) of the growth of all parts of the world."  (pg. 23; 49% on Kindle)

    "I have read in a book of one of your men, of a Feigned Commonwealth, where the married couple are permitted, before they contract, to see one another naked.  This they dislike; for they think it a scorn to give a refusal after so familiar knowledge: but because of many hidden defects in men and women's bodies, they have a more civil way; for they have near every town a couple of pools, (which they call Adam and Eve's pools) where it is permitted to one of the friends of the men, and another of the friends of the woman, to see them severally bathe naked."  (pg. 32; 68% on Kindle)

Happy are the people of Bensalem. (pg. 27)
    Bacon's use of a seafaring storyline is both clever and a drawback.  His vision of Utopia is fine and dandy, and well thought out.  But readers want to see it put to the test.  What will happen if the crops fail; if a despot comes to power; or if the European empires become aware of New Atlantis's location?  A lush island in the middle of the South Pacific would be a vital place to take on fresh provisions.  Worth conquering, and worth fighting to keep.  Utopias are fragile.

    New Atlantis is short, which is the main reason I read it.  It's the first book I downloaded to my Kindle, and I wanted to get comfortable with the bells-&-whistles of the device.  If the Kindle wasn't for me, at least I'd find that out in 50 pages, not 500.

    It was interesting to read about 17th-century philosophies and ideals; and Bacon's technology predictions are eeerily insightful.  But Bacon is not a novelist, and New Atlantis screams for some tension, some bad guys, or some paradise-threatening drama.  You shooda hired an editor, Sir Francis.  4 Stars, but I do like my Kindle.

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