The Plato Papers


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4 out of 5

Is each century doomed to misinterpret previous ones? That's the central question of Ackroyd's new book, more a Swiftian compendium of social folly than a novel, satirizing many of today's intellectual shibboleths. In the year 3700, a public orator named Plato educates the masses about the important texts and beliefs of previous ages. It's an imperfect archeology, though, since destroyed texts and lost information cause him to attribute On the Origin of Species not to Charles Darwin, but to Charles Dickens, placing that volume in Dickens's line of melodramatic or romantic novels. He also puzzles over the computer age, rueing the "despair engendered by the cult of webs and nets which spread among the people" and cites Edgar Allan Poe's Tales and Histories as "the unique record of a lost race." Eventually, Plato begins to suspect that his knowledge about earlier culture is fundamentally incorrect, but as he moves beyond generally accepted assumptions, he runs afoul of those in power. He's placed on trial and is forced to defend himself against accusations of "corrupting the young by spinning lies and fables."


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