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Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  254 ratings  ·  62 reviews
For readers of Jill Lepore, Joseph J. Ellis, and Tony Horwitz comes a lively, thought-provoking intellectual history of the golden age of American utopianism—and the bold, revolutionary, and eccentric visions for the future put forward by five of history’s most influential utopian movements.

In the wake of the Enlightenment and the onset of industrialism, a generation of
ebook, 512 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Random House
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  254 ratings  ·  62 reviews

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Nov 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Deeply held convictions about religion, science, and the industrial revolution converged in mid-nineteenth century America and created a flurry of experimental utopian communities whose enthusiastic members hoped they were building model societies that would change the world. This fascinating, hard to put down, sometimes heartbreaking history profiles five of the hard working, ideal rich groups--the Shakers, New Harmony, the Fourierist phalanxes, Icaria and Oneida. While the utopians held many ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! I've been making a study of 19th Century American Intellectual thought, and this book has been perfect as it covers the primary utopian movements in this period. The Shakers, Oneida, Icarians, New Harmony, Fouriersts, and Brooks Farm -- all here and covered along with their founders in detail. The writing is clear and lively, and a fair amount of comparative analysis between the movements as the book progresses.
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction

“It was a time when the imminence of paradise seemed reasonable to reasonable people.” (Kindle Location 140)

I tend to clump stories about “oddball” cultures, cults, communes, and collectives, under the heading of ‘extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds’...and am mostly fascinated by them. The outlandish stories of which we manage convince ourselves and each other never cease to amaze.

Chris Jennings’s non-fiction, Paradise Now: The Story of
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An engrossing and surprisingly relevant and vital look at five utopian movements in the U.S. Basically, if you want to start a successful utopia, either have all the sex or zero sex, be very organized and have an eye for aesthetics, and probably don't be French, I guess.

It was really eye-opening to learn how much the work of Marx and Engels owes to the utopian movements. Jennings' descriptions are as clear as can be when talking about some often weighty philosophical (not to mention weird)
Susan O
If you like history of the 19th century or American religion, or even just information about quirky and interesting people, this is an excellent book. Jennings delves into 5 of the major utopian movements in the United States during a time when a belief in a perfect future still held the fascination of people of the new country. In many ways America was the hope of those who were dissatisfied with society as it was for whatever reason, economic or religious, and not all of the communities, or ...more
Jo Stafford
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This well-written and engaging account of five 19th-century utopian communities in the United States was a delight to read, with Jennings an intelligent and insightful guide.

Jennings deftly moves through the century from the Shakers to Robert Owens's New Harmony to the Fourierists to the Icarians and finally to the Oneida community without skipping a beat, highlighting both their common ground and their differences.

There is much to admire in these communities' endeavors to build a better
Karen Adkins
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was terrific. Jennings does a good job covering the history of 19th century US utopian movements. It's informative without getting bogged down in pointless details, and he frames his history in smart analysis about common themes and relevant contest. His opening and closing chapters do a nice job of reminding us why these movements are interesting and valuable--so creative and technologically innovative--even if also flawed. My only quibble is that he's too uncritical of Nathaniel ...more
Emre Sevinç
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book turned out to be a highly informative read, without failing to be engaging, and sometimes even entertaining. Being more than a dry summary of events that took part in a very special part of history, it sheds light on very different social experiments that happened in USA in 1800s. I didn't know about so many different communities in USA that tried to build "utopian" and "collective" life styles: some of them with strong religious background and motivation, whereas some of them much ...more
Aug 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Excellent content, unique material, if too lengthy for some movements detailed.

Very annoying that he describes NAP as from Red Bank, NJ when it was in Colts Neck NJ (formerly Atlantic Township), which is the reason I picked this book out to read in the first place; that site (close to my childhood home) lost to arson in the early 1970s.

Despite that error, recommended for anyone interested in social, political, religious, cultural movements in American history.
Phil Geusz
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book that isn't, like too many histories, afraid to to speculate on what it all means.
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Nineteenth Century utopian communities started off with great promise. Yet all failed. Why? Curiosity aroused, I picked up this book. Five major ones are profiled, all formed by enthusiastic idealists. All were based on a communal lifestyle (some even called themselves "communist" but that was before Communist became a bad word), all aspired to serve as a model for future civilization. Shakers were celibate, "Perfectionists" of the Oneida commune practiced multi-partner free love. Major reasons ...more
May 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Among themselves, [young boys] will speak their own secret rubbish-collecting slang. For extrazealous trash picking, individual boys will be rewarded with medals and military-style honors. 'Frenzied by trumpet blasts and roars of approval, intoxicated by unending accolades, the Little Hordes would place their love of filth at the service of the Phalanx.'"

worth it just for the ludicrous fourierist stuff
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Utopian groups that sprung up in 19th Century America all shared the belief that perfection was just around the corner and that they would set the example for others to follow. Their means to this end varied greatly but what they all had in common was the willingness to leave home and hearth behind and follow a charismatic leader, regardless of how half-baked or poorly thought out his or her teachings were.
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What I found most interesting was the influence of the culture and conditions of the mid 19th century on the formation of Utopianism as well as the religions that survive that time period today, particularly Mormonism.
Luke X.
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book caught my attention because many of the subjects currently being discussed in political arenas - free healthcare; free education; free childcare; guaranteed living wages - are common to Utopian idealists. In the book, Chris Jennings explores five significant Utopian movements that arose in the United States starting in the late 1700's through the latter 1800's. Approaching each individually (and each is unique), he details the thought processes, beliefs and ambitions that brought each ...more
Alexander Miles
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed Jennings' book on American utopias! It focuses only on a handful, namely the Shakers, Owenites, Fourierists, Icarians, and Perfectionists, though a few other movements make brief appearances as well. I suppose I hadn't had much foreknowledge of the topic before I dove in - only perhaps that these 19th century communities were forebears to the hippie communes of the 60s and 70s. Jennings presents, in essentially chronological order, the appearance of the major collectivist ...more
Ameya Warde
I apparently made 383 highlights in this book. And they were usually long ones, too...
So, suffice to say, this one gets 5 stars from me!

I was excited to find this title as I am currently researching/studying Utopian communities and this is one of the few even relatively recent books on this topic. It also happens to be eminently readable, very engaging, and jam packed with information. I feel like I've just read 5 super interesting and intertwining books instead of just one!

Paradise Now is my
Nov 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Engaging, though not easy, read on a fascinating subject. Jennings focuses on five different utopian communities that reached their height during the 19th century, and also endeavors to explain what was going on at the time to make this sort of communism so popular. He sets out the roots of each group (namely the Shakers, Robert Owens' New Harmony, the Fourierist Phalanxes, Icaria, and the Oneida Community), showing how they differ and yet, at times, coalesce. The range of ideas is mind-boggling ...more
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I loved this fascinating look at five utopian society movements that have found a home in America in the 19th century. This book gives snapshots of these various schools of thought, and the ways their followers attempted to live out their principles in the U.S.

Most were formed as a response to industrialism, and an attempt to create a society as equitable and peaceful as possible. John Humphrey Noyes called his brand of utopianism "Bible Communism," and in many ways you can see the connection
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-read
I'm sure someone at the local public library reviewing use stats will be surprised to see how many times this was checked out and renewed, mostly by me. This was the second time I checked it out and renewed it multiple times, and I finally made myself sat down and finish it. It wasn't that it was interesting, it's just that I kept getting distracted by newer, shinier library books.

Once I actually got into this I found it engaging and also funny. I was surprised here at the number of reviews on
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've read only 2 other books on this topic, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this is the definitive account of 19th-century American Utopian communities. There is an abundance of detail to enliven the narrative. Where else could you learn about the fashion choices at Brook Farm or recreational pursuits at the Oneida community? (Spoiler alert: croquet!) Although all of the Utopian communities ultimately failed, there are lessons we can still learn from them. This book helps to keep these ...more
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
Fantastic. I started it for research and found myself so engaged I forgot I was reading it for "work."

The author writes about these folks in a way that is both loving/understanding and "wow, really?" It's the perfect blend. It was exactly how I felt as I read their utopian ideas. Both "I would join you" and "what were you thinking?"

It's been at least a month since I finished the book and I keep thinking about it.
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A detailed and thorough history of 19th Century Utopianism which was fascinating, but lacked a real spark until the conclusion. This is where the author did a superb job of castigating our tendency to dwell on past glories instead of charting an exciting future. Forget about dwelling on how to "Make America Great Again." Instead, we should be challenging ourselves to achieve greater heights than we ever have before!
William Koon
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Paradise Now:The Story of American Utopianism by Chris Jennings
Here’s a study of four American Utopian experiments: the various Shaker communities, New Harmony, The Fournier philosophical groups, and Oneida. He tells us too much detail about the Shakers. In fact, although Jennings surverys he does not really reveal anything of which we are not already aware. He makes us aware the Shakers did not continue because they believed in sexual abstinence. On the other hand, the Oneidists believed in
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
More a story of five loosely overlapping utopias than "the story" of American Utopianism, still an informative and interesting read. Do yourself a favor, though, and just read the last eight pages, which makes a good argument for why our current focus on dystopian thinking may be robbing us of a positive future vision to work toward.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Relatively unknown aspect of American history - I first became interested in the subject upon visiting the mansion in Oneida New York that once housed the perfectionist community known for "complex marriage" and an enlightened view of women. This history reveals the many threads of Utopianism running through the 1800s including such familiar characters as Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
beautiful and strange.
wonderfully written.

Even the footnotes, like the one on p 196, are thought-provoking, "The word individualism actually came into common usage in the United States as a slur, meaning something like selfishness or egotism, but worse, since it describes a social trend, not a personal failing...It was Emerson who redeemed the word, designating it as a virtue, not a vice."
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
A history of a few of America's most influential utopian experiments. Well-written and thought provoking even if you haven't always wondered about how these experiments rose at about the same time and failed to survive--as I have wondered. Learned a lot -- painlessly.
Kevin Moynihan
Good intro to pre-Civil War utopian societies in the U.S. Brook Farm (West Roxbury, MA) well covered in Fouerism chapter. Synthesizes the various sources. Occasionally comments on the similarities to today's world but that is not the main objective of the book.
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent overview of the attempts to form utopian societies in the United States in the 19th century. Most particularly interesting was the extensive coverage of the Onedia Colony, of which I had apparently heard much misinformation. Highly recommended.
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“His “Harmonian Court of Love,” in which individuals are algorithmically paired for romantic and sexual liaisons, sounded preposterous in the middle nineteenth century. Today it is the banal reality of online dating (eHarmony). Since” 0 likes
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