The best books of utopian fiction

Who am I?

With a passion for animal rights transforming into one for ecological issues, when I was in high school, I’ve been involved in activism research for 40+ years. Recently this has translated into an intense search for radical alternatives to ‘development’ and all the structures of inequality and unsustainability underlying it, including capitalism, state-domination, and patriarchy. I’ve been documenting many ‘living utopias’ where communities are forging pathways of well-being without trashing the earth or creating abysmal inequalities. Many groups & networks I’ve helped start, including Kalpavriksh, Vikalp Sangam, and Global Tapestry of Alternatives, focus on these issues. So it's always fascinating also to see how fictional utopias relate to these!


I edited...

Book cover of Pluriverse – A Post-Development Dictionary Ashish Kothari

What is my book about?

Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary contains over one hundred essays on transformative initiatives and alternatives to the currently dominant processes of globalized development, including its structural roots in modernity, capitalism, state domination, and masculinist values. It offers critical essays on mainstream solutions that ‘greenwash’ development and presents radically different worldviews and practices from around the world that point to an ecologically wise and socially just world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of News from Nowhere

Ashish Kothari Why did I love this book?

Deeply engaging and bold in its vision, News from Nowhere shows how a truly egalitarian society can work without any centralised power and private property. Seen through the eyes of a socialist who wakes up one day to find himself in such a world, I particularly liked how this departs from usual socialist visions which are dependent on a central state; here, ‘public’ property truly belongs to the public! Written in the 1890s, this book spawned many other utopian writings, but perhaps none matched up to the simple sophistication of Morris’ vision.

By William Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked News from Nowhere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

News from Nowhere(1890) is the best-known prose work of William Morris and the only significant English utopia to be written since Thomas More's. The novel describes the encounter between a visitor from the nineteenth century, William Guest, and a decentralized and humane socialist future. Set over a century after a revolutionary upheaval in 1952, these "Chapters from a Utopian Romance" recount his journey across London and up the Thames to Kelmscott Manor, Morris's own country house in Oxfordshire. Drawing on the work of John Ruskin and Karl Marx, Morris's book is not only an evocative statement of his egalitarian convictions…


Book cover of Island

Ashish Kothari Why did I love this book?

The complete antithesis to Huxley’s much more famous book, Brave New World, this novel depicts the ideal life of an imaginary island, Pala, somewhere in South-East Asia. Huxley seems to have picked up elements from the actual life-ways of islanders in the Asia-Pacific region, rather than do a lot of futuristic fable-building. Economic production, spiritual and ethical values, nature conservation, and other aspects of life are integrated into a harmonious whole which is quite alluring! But though this was written 30 years after Brave New World, Huxley seems not to have completely shaken off that dystopian outlook. The ending of Island is disquieting, to say the least. Or perhaps he is simply reminding us that an island of utopian living is not enough, and will always be threatened if the world as a whole remains enthralled by the trappings of money-making and power-seeking.  

By Aldous Huxley,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For over a hundred years the Pacific island of Pala has been the scene of a unique experiment in civilisation. Its inhabitants live in a society where western science has been brought together with Eastern philosophy to create a paradise on earth. When cynical journalist, Will Farnaby, arrives to research potential oil reserves on Pala, he quickly falls in love with the way of life on the island. Soon the need to complete his mission becomes an intolerable burden and he must make a difficult choice.

In counterpoint to Brave New World and Ape and Essence, in Island Huxley gives…


Book cover of The Telling

Ashish Kothari Why did I love this book?

We live in a world where freedom of thought and expression is constantly threatened by those who would like to be unquestioned rulers. Le Guin’s Aka planet is one such, where those in power have attempted to erase history and ban books. But as in so many of Le Guin’s books, a utopian streak comes shining through here in the form of an underground movement keeping alive memory through the sacred act of telling. I loved the subversive current in the story, The Telling of which is itself an act of hope and inspiration.  

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Telling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book celebrates the art of storytelling - whether the making of myth or the stories we tell ourselves to bring narrative and shape to the lives we lead. These fine narrative pieces in lyric form showcase the poetic talents of some of the most interesting emerging poets from Wales, the UK and the world.


Book cover of Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements

Ashish Kothari Why did I love this book?

Anthologies of science fiction often tend to be darkly foreboding. This one takes us on a journey of 20 bold, hope-inspiring stories infused with the scent of freedom, justice, emancipation. The authors, many of them black, feminist, queer, rebel artists, and the like, all involved in some kind of social action, come up with dazzling imaginations of what a better world could look like. Like any good collection of stories, it’s the kind one can dive into every once in a while, whether one has 10 minutes to read or the whole day … and having finished it, come back to it yet again for a dose of inspiration.

By Adrienne Maree Brown (editor), Walidah Imarisha (editor),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Octavia's Brood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whenever we envision a world without war, prisons, or capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have brought 20 of them together in the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. These visionary tales span genres—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism—but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around…


Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

Ashish Kothari Why did I love this book?

The latest book on my list of 5 is a blockbuster in many ways. Taking the earth’s biggest crisis, climate, head-on, the author starts with a horrifying heatwave killing 20 million people in north India but then goes on to build a much more hopeful and astonishingly realistic narrative of how the world moves rapidly into tackling the crisis. It's fiction, but not fantasy, and Robinson builds a solid scientific base for the actions his characters take. As in most of the books in my list, women take a lead … and though I’m not nationalistic, I was more than a little pleased that the author puts India at the centre of many of the solutions!

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked The Ministry for the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF BARACK OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR

“The best science-fiction nonfiction novel I’ve ever read.” —Jonathan Lethem
 
"If I could get policymakers, and citizens, everywhere to read just one book this year, it would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future." —Ezra Klein (Vox)

The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, postapocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us. Chosen by Barack Obama as one of his favorite…


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Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

Book cover of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

Michael Ruse Author Of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Teacher (professor) Author Darwin specialist Charles Dickens fanatic

Michael's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Why We Hate asks why a social animal like Homo sapiens shows such hostility to fellow species members. The invasion of the Ukraine by Russia? The antisemitism found on US campuses in the last year? The answer and solution lies in the Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection.

Being social is biology’s way of ensuring survival and reproduction. With the coming of agriculture 10,000 years ago, new conditions – primarily much-increased population numbers – meant that sociality broke down as we battled for our share of much-reduced resources. But, as cultural change brought about our troubles, so culture offers prospects of a future where our social natures can emerge and thrive again.

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

What is this book about?

An insightful and probing exploration of the contradiction between humans' enormous capacity for hatred and their evolutionary development as a social species

Why We Hate tackles a pressing issue of both longstanding interest and fresh relevance: why a social species like Homo sapiens should nevertheless be so hateful to itself. We go to war and are prejudiced against our fellow human beings. We discriminate on the basis of nationality, class, race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender. Why are humans at once so social and so hateful to each other? In this book, prominent philosopher Michael Ruse looks at scientific
understandings…


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