Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well- Set Table—An American Story

Ellen Wayland-Smith. Picador, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-04310-8
In this impressively thorough and engaging work, Wayland-Smith tells the story of the Oneida Community, a 19th-century utopian Christian commune that later became known for silverware manufacturing. The author, a descendent of community founder John Humphry Noyes, combines stellar research with exceptional critical analysis that considers the community in light of the work of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and George Bernard Shaw. Organized in upstate New York in 1848, Oneida was marked by a practical approach to finances and countercultural religious beliefs, including free love or “complex marriage.” A schism split the religious community and it dissolved as Noyes grew old, but his descendants continued to run Oneida’s business operations—primarily silk, animal trap, and iron spoon factories. Their spoon factory soon shone brightest, becoming one of the top silverware companies in the country until its 2006 bankruptcy. Wayland-Smith demonstrates that Oneida was very much a product of its time, placing the community in the context of the Second Great Awakening and the expansion of American capitalism while highlighting Noyes’s incorporation of communism, utopianism, eugenics, and spiritualism (among other aspects of industrial modernism) into his belief system. This book is a fascinating look into the strange history of Oneida silverware and how its origins reflect an exhilarating period of American history. Agent: Rob McQuilkin, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/07/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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