Out on 10 June 2021

The Utopians

Anna Neima

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10 June 2021
9781529023091
600 pages
Synopsis

'Neima’s book, impeccably researched and beautifully written, will be an inspiration for anyone looking to an alternative future today.' - Stella Tillyard, author of Aristocrats and The Great Level

'Deeply interesting and a pleasure to read, The Utopians illuminates the history of “social dreaming” at a time when it has never been more needed.' - Alison Light, author of A Radical Romance, Common People and Mrs. Woolf and the Servants

The Utopians is the remarkable story of six experimental communities – Santiniketan-Sriniketan in India, Dartington Hall in England, Atarashiki Mura in Japan, the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France, the Bruderhof in Germany and Trabuco College in America – that sprang up in the aftermath of the First World War.

Each was led by charismatic figures who dreamed of a new way of living. Rabindranath Tagore, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, Mushanokoji Saneatsu, G. I. Gurdjieff, Eberhard and Emmy Arnold and Gerald Heard all struggled to turn ambitious ideals into reality. They – and their fellow communards – left their jobs, their homes and their social circles. They faced mockery and persecution, penury, hunger and discomfort, and their own doubts about whether their efforts to change society would ever make a difference.

Anna Neima’s absorbing and vivid account of these collectives, from creation to collapse, reveals them to be full of eccentric characters, outlandish lifestyles and unchecked idealism. They were dramatic, fractious places where high ideals collided with the need to feed the chickens, clean the toilets, bring up squabbling children and grow the grain for the daily bread.

These communities were small in scale and dismissed in their time. Yet, a century later, their influence still resonates in realms as disparate as progressive education, environmentalism, medical research and mindfulness training. They provided, and continue to provide, a rich store of inspiration for those who aspire to improve the world. Without them, the post-war world would have been a poorer place.

In the midst of crisis it’s inspiring to read about men and women who dedicated themselves to creating new worlds. Neima’s book, impeccably researched and beautifully written, will be an inspiration for anyone looking to an alternative future today.

Stella Tillyard, author of Aristocrats and The Great Level

Can we ever transform ourselves and our divided societies? Deeply interesting and a pleasure to read, The Utopians illuminates the history of “social dreaming” at a time when it has never been more needed. This is a lovely book.

Alison Light, author of A Radical Romance, Common People and Mrs. Woolf and the Servants

Neima is a historian of rare and wonderful powers. She writes with utter lucidity, bringing great swathes of thinking into focus, uncovering deep connections between experimental communities across the world. Considering her chosen utopians with a precious mix of shrewd realism and questing open-mindedness, she honours both practicalities and dreams. I finished this book newly persuaded of what the interwar years can teach us about the future. I’ll be recommending it to everyone I know, and looking to Neima as an inspiring new voice in non-fiction.

Alexandra Harris, acclaimed author of Weatherland and Romantic Moderns