CRF Blog

Where We Ought to Be

by Bill Hayes

In Where We Ought to Be for the New York Times Book Review, Kirk Davis Swinehart reviews Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism by Chris Jennings.

America in the opening decades of the 19th century appealed as never before to those with utopian aspirations, noble and ignoble alike. The War of Independence had made the New World — long a vessel for people’s dreams and delusions — new once more. By Jennings’s count, some hundred-odd experimental communities formed on American soil in the Revolution’s wake. Though “Paradise Now” treats only five of them, it spans the entire disorienting period, with its maelstrom of awakenings and revivals, booms and busts. Jennings’s sure grasp never falters. The result is a triumph of scholarship and narration: five stand-alone community studies and a coherent, often spellbinding history of the United States during its tumultuous first half-century. [more]