Book Review: The Just City by Jo Walton

This book is a Plato’s city ruled by philosopher-kings imagined alive. A test to see if it is possible and where the pitfalls would lay. The book follows three central characters: a god turned into a human male to see what it is like to live as a mortal; a young girl brought into the city as a slave who has time to become more than she would have ever come: study, do sports, be free to think and argue with others, love and live; a Victorian era woman brought into the city to guide and mentor the children, to become philosophers and ideal human beings. All the characters were lovable, but my problem was that none of them were critical enough.

One (two, if you count in Sokrates) looks at the city from an outsider’s perspective (not blinded by love,) but we never hear their inner monologue. This makes me wonder if Jo Walton wanted to look at the city from an objective perspective or was this more like praise for Plato’s Republic, which she got and read as a child. Yes, she admits at every turn, the Republic is a concept and couldn’t exist in the real. Still, I get the sense the writer wishes it could be and is unwilling to criticize it harshly. I wanted to argue with the book which makes it well-written in my mind, but also a disappointment. It never addressed a lot of the issues I have with the Republic. The central questions in the book were women’s rights, how to organize mindless tasks (do workers have consciousness,) and the freedom to choose. There is no talk about the elitist way Plato organizes his city, nor does it address questions about corruption, and can philosopher-kings genuinely know what is good for all. Some questions were partly discussed through some subplots, but not to the extent I would be a happy camper. Yes, Walton shows that humans are humans, with lust and jealousy, hatred, and desires. But she could have taken a step further with those issues. Maybe the problem with me is that I have no love for The Republic, it has never spoken to me as an ideal of any sort.

I have mixed feelings about The Just City. Not only because of my qualms about the elitist Republic and its disregard of reality, but also because of the unsatisfactory ending. It feels hurried. Its conclusion is disappointing, and I got the feeling that Jo Walton hadn’t thought through how she should solve her thoughts about the Republic or The Just City’s storyline. Partly, it felt like she didn’t mean it. I cannot say more without revealing the ending. On some level, I loved the way the finish was done: through dialogue and argumentation. The entire book’s storyline was through discussion and argumentation, making me giddy.

To read or not, if you are interested in philosophy and about the human condition, then I highly recommend this book. If you are looking for action, then skip this one. And if you consider argumentation about issues form of action, then step in.

Thank you for reading and have an enlightened day! And argue back if you disagree with me.

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