** Paradise Now by Chris Jennings

Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism tells the story of five utopian movements of the late 18th century and 19th century, ending with the Civil War. Some the Shakers, Oneida) are better known than others

The author describes the movements without necessarily drawing parallels between them, but the resemblances are often stunning. The various movements described perfect futures, with an array of serious or amusing characteristics such as lemonade-tasting oceans (really!), equal rights (for the members, from whom could be excluded the undesirable), and no mosquitoes (excellent idea). The successful ones organized work in efficient collective manner that brought them property and some degree of staying power (those that were unable to organize work and finances failed promptly). They created intricate, infinitely detailed rules that governed every aspect of life, from how to cut meat to the kind of pets that could be kept. And of course marriage and sex were especially regulated, with some communities forbidding it entirely while others read like swinger clubs.

The Shakers, Owenites, Fourierists, Icarians, and Oneidans all shared a charming optimism that they could indeed set up a lifestyle that would bring perfect happiness. How far they were from today’s taste for dystopia!

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