Utopia Drive: A Road Trip Through America’s Most Radical Idea

Erik Reece. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (364p) ISBN 978-0-3741-0657-7
Visionary hopes, eccentric beliefs, and hard work animate this impassioned history of and meditation on American utopian settlements. Environmental journalist Reece (Lost Mountain) tours sites of famous 19th-century intentional communities, including the Pleasant Hill, Ky., Shaker congregation, whose celibacy commandment channeled energies into making classic furniture; New Harmony, Ind., where industrialist Robert Owen built a benevolent socialist dictatorship; anarchist Josiah Warren’s Modern Times village on Long Island, N.Y., which used a “labor notes” currency denoted in working hours to banish exploitation; Thoreau’s Walden Pond, Mass., utopia of one; and the Oneida, N.Y., free-love commune of prophet John Humphrey Noyes. Reece also visits Twin Oaks, Va., a flourishing modern-day hippie commune. He regales readers with the colorful oddities and excesses of these groups, and warms to their feminism, anti-racism, and egalitarianism. The book examines utopian theories of what’s wrong with the world—capitalism, private property, egotism, either sex or monogamy—and Reece chimes in with Jeffersonian jeremiads against banks, consumerism, mass production, agribusiness, and genetic engineering, never registering how industry and technology make utopian aspirations practical. (His idea of paradise seems to be an organic farm with solar panels.) The result is an engaging exploration—and example—of the fruitful tunnel-visions of dreamers turned doers. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/13/2016
Release date: 08/09/2016
Ebook - 978-0-374-71075-0
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