cover image American Poly: A History

American Poly: A History

Christopher M. Gleason. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-197-65914-4

Historian Gleason debuts with an enlightening history of polyamory, surveying six American thinkers of the late 20th century who challenged conventional marriage and advocated for alternative romantic arrangements. Beginning with the polyamorist impulse that emerged in the 1960s countercultural movement, he examines cultural misfit Oberon Zell, who in 1967 was inspired by conservative science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land to form the neopagan organization Church of All Worlds and its magazine, Green Eggs, which promoted polyamory (and notions of personal divinity) to a national readership. Heinlein’s book similarly inspired WWII veteran Jud Presmont to form the polyamorous religious community Kerista, which was active from 1960 to 1990 with branches in Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Gleason also spotlights freethinkers Ryam Nearing and Deborah Anapol, who spearheaded a secular form of polyamory in the 1980s and ’90s through newsletters, conferences, and their national magazine, Loving More. Finally, he examines the disparate polyamorous communities that formed on Usenet forums and Well message boards and merged with the LGBTQ movement in the early years of the internet. These in-depth profiles and institutional histories illuminate the oddball mix of conservative political thinking and countercultural spirituality that formed the theoretical underpinnings of contemporary polyamory. It’s an equally entertaining and edifying account. (Nov.)