Jonathan Bate at The New Statesman:
What about Swift? Gulliver’s Travels can be read in many different ways: as local satire (on particular political circumstances and scientific fashions), as parody of the kind of pseudo-realistic travel narrative represented by Crusoe, as mockery of utopian visions, as the misanthropic ravings of a furious old man. Three hundred years on, scholars and students still debate whether or not Swift the narrator is directing his irony against Gulliver or the talking horses known as Houyhnhnms (all you need to do is whinny). Or both. The fact the name Gulliver contains the word “gull” – someone who is easily deceived – is a starting point.
We cannot begin to give decent answers to the questions raised by Gulliver’s Travels without a sense of its place in Jonathan Swift’s long and complicated life, which lasted from 1667 (probably) to 1745 (by which time he had already written his own epitaph, the magnificently self-knowing and wittily self-deprecatory Verses on the Death of Dr Swift). The Harvard professor Leo Damrosch’s new biography is to be warmly welcomed. Up until now, the serious student of Swift has had to rely on Irvin Ehrenpreis’s three-volume epic treatment, completed half a century ago. As Damrosch shows in a crisp and exemplary prologue, Ehrenpreis, for all his command of minutiae, was unnecessarily dismissive of certain items of contemporary gossip about Swift and over-confident in his psychoanalytic interpretations.