The best utopian books

20 authors have picked their favorite books about utopian and why they recommend each book.

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Utopia

By Thomas More,

Book cover of Utopia

This is the OG of utopias—written in 1516 about people living on a distant island. Later writers made up utopias set in the future, but More’s island is still fun to read about. A place where there is no private property, no one desires wealth, all citizens are equal, and all religions are tolerated—though there is no privacy (or premarital sex) either. Nobody knows whether More meant it as satire or longing, or even if we should translate u-topia as “no-place” or “good-place.”

Utopia

By Thomas More,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in Latin in 1516, Utopia was the work of Sir Thomas More (1477–1535), the brilliant humanist, scholar, and churchman executed by Henry VIII for his refusal to accept the king as the supreme head of the Church of England.
In this work, which gave its name to the whole genre of books and movements hypothesizing an ideal society, More envisioned a patriarchal island kingdom that practiced religious tolerance, in which everybody worked, no one has more than his fellows, all goods were community-owned, and violence, bloodshed, and vice nonexistent. Based to some extent on the writings of Plato…


Who am I?

When I was a teenager, I thought we could create a perfect world—or if not quite perfect, at least much, much better than the one we are currently destroying. Actually, I still think it’s possible, just a lot harder and a lot more dangerous than I originally thought. I’ve been interested in all the efforts to imagine and create utopias, which sometimes produce hells instead of heavens, ever since. I have evolved (I think it’s progress) from being a high school Maoist to something more mature while watching China’s attempts to improve the lives of its citizens with respect and sympathy.


I wrote...

Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

By Peter Zarrow,

Book cover of Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

What is my book about?

I wanted to do two things with this book. First, to show how utopian ideas were circulating globally by the late nineteenth century. And second, to show how they played out in China in widely different ideas about politics: not just the obvious anarchism and socialism, but in new ways of thinking about Confucianism and liberalism as well. Focusing on four thinkers, only one of whom wrote a full-fledged utopia, I argue that a “utopian impulse” was key to their political theories. 

Everyday Utopias

By Davina Cooper,

Book cover of Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces

The word, utopia, derives from the Greek terms ou “not” + topos “place”---“no place.” Yet, the idea of a perfect “place” or society is one that has captured the imagination of artists, writers, politicians, and governments for centuries. I really love the concept of “everyday utopias” because it focuses on small, local spaces of joy and pleasure that people create for themselves outside and beyond the boundaries of social norms and expectations. Inherent in the term “utopia” is the impossibility of the idea and yet, readers witness thriving communities that show the possibilities of alternative systems of governance, self-sufficiency, civility, and citizenship, as well as well-being and pleasure.

Everyday Utopias

By Davina Cooper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Everyday utopias enact conventional activities in unusual ways. Instead of dreaming about a better world, participants seek to create it. As such, their activities provide vibrant and stimulating contexts for considering the terms of social life, of how we live together and are governed. Weaving conceptual theorizing together with social analysis, Davina Cooper examines utopian projects as seemingly diverse as a feminist bathhouse, state equality initiatives, community trading networks, and a democratic school where students and staff collaborate in governing. She draws from firsthand observations and interviews with participants to argue that utopian projects have the potential to revitalize progressive…


Who am I?

As a professor of African American literature and culture, I’ve spent my career writing, reading, teaching, talking and thinking about black interiority: feelings, emotions, memory, affect. My publications and lectures focus mostly on the creative and diverse ways that black people have created spaces of pleasure and possibility, even in the most dire times and under extremely difficult conditions. I’ve been told that I’m a natural optimist, so it is fitting that my most recent book and this recommendation list is all about the intentional and creative ways that people cultivate joy and a sense of possibility for themselves and others.


I wrote...

Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture

By Badia Ahad-Legardy,

Book cover of Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture

What is my book about?

Afro-Nostalgia is about returning to a black historical past in ways that de-center a traumatic narrative of blackness. Despite the fact that it was once thought that African-descended people could not experience nostalgia, Afro-Nostalgia examines how romantic recollections of the black historical past show up in popular culture as a way to inspire “good feelings.” I explore the concept of “Black historical pleasure” through a variety of art forms, specifically literature, music, visual art, performance, and culinary culture, to show that nostalgia is a functional form of memory that is crucial to our emotional health and psychological well-being.

Ecotopia

By Ernest Callenbach,

Book cover of Ecotopia

Philosopher Ernest Callenbach’s novel originated the ecotopia genre as well as the term itself, pioneering many green ideas, even as basic as sustainability: Callenbach called it “steady-state society”, and imagined some of the radical forms it might take (they’re still radical, alas), weaving them together into a story that is occasionally cringe-worthy (in hindsight, you know) but nonetheless paints a compelling and informative picture of an alternative, thoroughly environmentalist society.

PS. Will Weston, the protagonist, is no relation... though that was my grandfather’s name...

Ecotopia

By Ernest Callenbach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Twenty years have passed since Northern California, Oregon, and Washington seceded from the United States to create a new nation, Ecotopia. Rumors abound of barbaric war games, tree worship, revolutionary politics, sexual extravagance. Now, this mysterious country admits its first American visitor: investigative reporter Will Weston, whose dispatches alternate between shock and admiration. But Ecotopia gradually unravels everything Weston knows to be true about government and human nature itself, forcing him to choose between two competing views of civilization.Since it was first published in 1975, Ecotopia has inspired readers throughout the world with its vision of an ecologically and socially…


Who am I?

Officially a professional philosopher, author of fifteen books and textbooks on a wide range of subjects including ethics, critical and creative thinking, social change, and teaching. Wikipedia calls them “unconventional”, but honestly I prefer the ad copy for my own modest ecotopian book, which calls me a philosophical provocateur. My green credentials start with growing up in the Wisconsin countryside under the distant influence of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Aldo Leopold; later, long wilderness trips intertwined with edgy environmental philosophizing (you need some real edges for that!); and over the last decade the endlessly consuming project of designing and building Common Ground Ecovillage in the Piedmont of North Carolina.


I wrote...

Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto

By Anthony Weston,

Book cover of Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto

What is my book about?

Beyond today’s desperate attempts to “green” the status quo could lie far more inventive and inviting ecological visions. Imagine cities that welcome the rising winds and waters. Imagine ways of building that keep us close to other creatures and the seasons and the stars, rather than cut us off from them. Decentralized work, artful infill and semi-self-sufficient small-scale communities can facilitate life in place – no more massive transportation infrastructure! No more trash, either: instead, many things can be “dematerialized”, others made to keep forever...  or to turn into fertilizer overnight. And why not a green space program? I believe that much of the reason for today’s unwillingness to recognize and respond to the ecological emergency is that many people cannot even begin to envision any kind of appealing or livable alternative world. What opens up if the possibilities turn out to be wonderful?

Island

By Aldous Huxley,

Book cover of Island

Island novelizes the “purely aesthetic… sacramental vision” Huxley discovered on mescaline. It features mind-altering drugs, spiritualism, and conventional sex. It championed spiritual growth, environmentalism, and peaceful co-existence in an agricultural society. Huxley supposes a remote island where the best (white) people live in spiritual harmony away from the materialism, capitalism, and technological progress that he satirized in his immensely popular novel, Brave New World.

I chose Island because of Huxley’s other-worldly intellectual quietism, which appealed to city-bred, university-educated 60s people disillusioned by materialism. They chose a simpler, traditional, agricultural way of life, emulating Huxley’s rejection of technological progress, capitalism, and revolution.

Island

By Aldous Huxley,

Why should I read it?

2 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…


Who am I?

I was a teenager in the up-tight, homophobic, misogynist 50s that today’s right wing-nuts would like to inflict on us again. Born in 1941, I was a few years older than friends and relatives who homesteaded where land was cheap and neighbours tolerant, I shared their abhorrence of the Vietnam War. I admired them for daring to reject “the system,” but I was also troubled by their lack of foresight, which so often led to calamity. A lifetime later, some survivors of those hopeful times remain where they homesteaded; and many of those who left are still pursuing love, peace, and happiness.


I wrote...

The Hippies Who Meant It

By Seymour Hamilton,

Book cover of The Hippies Who Meant It

What is my book about?

The Hippies Who Meant It is about young people who went back to the land in Canada during the 60s and 70s.

Joe from the Bronx, and Beth the orphan escape New York City for Canada, hoping to leave their past lives—and American politics—behind them. At a peace march on their way north, their fortunes intertwine with the fate of Dick, a Royal Military College officer cadet. Armed with naïveté, optimism, and a little weed, the three homestead on Nova Scotia’s North Mountain. Unlike the hippies of summer, they make it through the first winter, with a little help from their friends. Then a man damaged by the Vietnam War threatens their peaceful lives.

Book cover of The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

This, and its sequel, is truly one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. It’s a punk rock road trip following Danielle Cain as she struggles to deal with the grief of losing her best friend while also going up against some truly bizarre characters and creatures in a utopian squatter town called Freedom. I loved the raw and unapologetic attitude of the main protagonist and the diversity of the supporting cast. This book is dark and brooding, fun and poignant in equal measure. It’s a paranormal riot and I loved every minute of it, and the follow up called The Barrow Will Send What It May.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

By Margaret Killjoy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Danielle Cain is a queer punk rock traveller, jaded from a decade on the road. Searching for clues about her best friend's mysterious and sudden suicide, she ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. All is not well in Freedom, however - things went awry after the town's residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner. Danielle shows up in time to witness the spirit - a blood red, three antlered deer - begin to turn on its summoners. Danielle and her new friends have to act fast if they're going to save the…


Who am I?

As a genderqueer non-binary person who always felt alone and invisible, it has been incredible to see the change taking place, particularly in YA, as more and more trans and non-binary authors get to tell their stories. Had I been able to read even one of these books as a teen, I might’ve avoided many years of unhappiness. Also, I’ve always been drawn to fantasy and science fiction, perhaps due to my need and desire to escape mundane reality, but I truly love how these genres let the imagination run riot, particularly when authors imagine kinder and more accepting worlds for LGBT+ people.


I wrote...

By the Blood of Rowans

By Xan van Rooyen,

Book cover of By the Blood of Rowans

What is my book about?

By the Blood of Rowans is a dark fantasy novel about a complicated family, ancient magic, and new love.

It’s about Rowan, the resident death walker who carries the souls of those who die on the magical island of Inisliath to the Otherworld. Things get complicated when someone starts offing members of the founding families in what might be a last-ditch effort to revive the dying magic. And it’s about Ash, the recent arrival returning to their ancestral home with their detective Mum who’s been tasked with investigating the ritualistic killings. Ash quickly develops a crush on Rowan, the only person they’ve ever met who seems to get Ash—unfortunately, he’s the main suspect even though Ash discovers he might actually be the next victim!

The Republic of Plato

By Allan Bloom (translator),

Book cover of The Republic of Plato

This bedrock text is the fons et origo of all Western thinking on politics and is still as challenging and profound as on the day it was composed. It is also a deep critique of civilization, an epistemological guide, and a primer on how to live a good life. A lot in one book! It used to be the one work that every college graduate had to read. Alas, no more.

The Republic of Plato

By Allan Bloom (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Long regarded as the most accurate rendering of Plato's Republic that has yet been published, this widely acclaimed work is the first strictly literal translation of a timeless classic. In addition to the annotated text, there is also a rich and valuable essay,as well as indices,which will better enable the reader to approach the heart of Plato's intention. This new edition includes a new introduction by acclaimed critic Adam Kirsch, setting the work in its intellectual context for a new generation of readers.


Who am I?

William Ophuls served as a Foreign Service Officer in Washington, Abidjan, and Tokyo before receiving a PhD in political science from Yale University in 1973. His Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity published in 1977 laid bare the ecological, social, and political challenges confronting modern industrial civilization. It was honored by the Kammerer and Sprout awards. After teaching briefly at Northwestern University, he became an independent scholar and author. He has since published a number of works extending and deepening his original argument, most prominently Requiem for Modern Politics in 1997, Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology in 2011, and Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail in 2013.


I wrote...

Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

By William Ophuls,

Book cover of Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

What is my book about?

We are embarked on an industrial Titanic running on fossil fuels that have caused a climate crisis, soon to become a civilizational crisis. Making the deck chairs from recyclable materials and fueling the boilers with biofuels is futile. In the end, the ship is doomed by the laws of thermodynamics and implacable geological and biological limits that have already begun to bite. Thus we are headed for a post-industrial future that will resemble the pre-industrial past in many respects.

I argue for an essentially Platonic politics of consciousness dedicated to inner cultivation rather than the external pursuit of perpetual growth. We might then achieve a way of life that is materially and institutionally simple, but culturally and spiritually rich.

A People's Future of the United States

By Charlie Jane Anders, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Charles Yu

Book cover of A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

By turns uplifting, bloody strange, heartbreaking, and joyful, this story collection touches on so many things: gender relations, race, hope, the need to feel safe, and the need to feel dignity among them. There are versions of America in this series that I dread, and versions of America that I long for. This is a book we need right now: a collection of dire warnings and beautiful dreams, hopes, and fears. We’re at a crossroads in history. This book reminds us that we can take a turn into the dark or the light. And wherever we go, we’ll be taking our whole selves and all our facets along for the ride: good and bad, kind and cruel, genetic and historical.

Strap in.

A People's Future of the United States

By Charlie Jane Anders, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Charles Yu

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A People's Future of the United States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A glittering landscape of twenty-five speculative stories that challenge oppression and envision new futures for America—from N. K. Jemisin, Charles Yu, Jamie Ford, G. Willow Wilson, Charlie Jane Anders, Hugh Howey, and more.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

In these tumultuous times, in our deeply divided country, many people are angry, frightened, and hurting. Knowing that imagining a brighter tomorrow has always been an act of resistance, editors Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams invited an extraordinarily talented group of writers to share stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice.…


Who am I?

I come from a reservation town in Wisconsin, and make my livelihood as a horticulturist in the water-strapped state of Colorado. I’m mix-race and LGBT. These influences have shaped what I look for in stories. I write and seek to read about communities in which the person creating medicine and the person growing food is just as important as the fighter, because let me tell you: if you don’t have the means to make food and heal wounds, all the guns in the world won’t save you. I particularly appreciate stories that explore ecology, agriculture, and plant science in innovative ways. These make my little horticulture-geek heart sing.


I wrote...

The Hands We're Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild)

By O.E. Tearmann,

Book cover of The Hands We're Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild)

What is my book about?

It's 2155, and seven corporations call the shots on the land that was the United States of America. Democracy is dead. The Corporations run the City Grids for a profit and own their worker's bodies and souls.

But there are people fighting for a change. There’s a unit in the resistance, nicknamed the Wildcards. Officially Democratic State Force Base 1407, the Wildcards are fighters in the war to bring democracy back. They're everything the Corporations despise: dreamers and fighters, punks and freaks and geeks who won't be told what to be or who to love. They've come up every walk of life to become the best unit the Democratic State Force has and the family every one of them needs. And they are taking the Corps down, one day at a time. Strap in for a series that's been called 'Firefly for the cyberpunk genre'. Hang on tight.

Ready Player Two

By Ernest Cline,

Book cover of Ready Player Two

For the vastly impossible feat of presenting a sequel to a thoroughly immersive narrative, this did impress. The lead out of the original gives the feeling of the impossible and so it was delivered. Brokering A.C. Clarke's range of brilliance plus getting into the popular references of my youth, in the cyberpunk, virtual reality, corporate elite defining drama, aren't we all familiar with dystopia by now? Where or when does the apocalypse become inevitable and what are you steering towards there or then? I was awe-inspired by this handling of ethical uses of hyper-tech which is one I left up to my reader's imagination by the end of my own series. Whether imagined VR can ever become a coded reality, or if it's only ever going to be imagination, this is the challenge of the Age of Aquarius.

Ready Player Two

By Ernest Cline,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ready Player Two as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Days after winning OASIS founder James Halliday's contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything.

Hidden within Halliday's vaults, waiting for his heir to find it, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the OASIS a thousand times more wondrous - and addictive - than even Wade dreamed possible.

With it comes a new riddle, and a new quest: a last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize.

And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who'll kill millions to get what he wants.

Wade's life and the…


Who am I?

As an avid explorer having thrice traveled around the world, living and working in over 40 countries, my inspirations as so originally science fiction have found grounding. I looked to level my imagination in the real world and filtered out the impossible from the unnecessary on a path to utopia. Sharing our ideas, exposing misgivings too, all contribute to a shared realization of human potential. This is much of the reason for who I am as a founder of business platforms I designed to achieve things that I envisage as helpful, necessary, and constructive contributions to our world. Those software endeavours underway in 2022, and a longtime coming still, are Horoscorpio and De Democracy.


I wrote...

Alchemy Series Compendium

By Jason Jowett,

Book cover of Alchemy Series Compendium

What is my book about?

The Alchemy Series offers a unique time-traveling dichotomy containing original interpretations of the holy scriptures, anthropomorphic myths, and cultural expositions. It is a science fiction adventure, and the philosophical-based narrative ranges in themes, characters, and genres. Humanity is juxtaposed in physical endeavor throughout the solar system and the astral plane, each with insight into the auspicious of Christ's nature.

Utopian Thought in the Western World

By Frank E. Manuel, Fritzie P. Manuel,

Book cover of Utopian Thought in the Western World

The Manuels give an exhaustive but very readable history of utopian thought from the Renaissance (Thomas More) to Marxism, with backward glances to ancient Judaic and Hellenic cultures. This book explains how and why utopias have been central to Western thought, showing how the utopias of one age seem dystopian in another age (or even their own), presented in wry prose that draws readers into the story.

Utopian Thought in the Western World

By Frank E. Manuel, Fritzie P. Manuel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Utopian Thought in the Western World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This masterly study has a grand sweep. It ranges over centuries, with a long look backward over several millennia. Yet the history it unfolds is primarily the story of individuals: thinkers and dreamers who envisaged an ideal social order and described it persuasively, leaving a mark on their own and later times.

The roster of utopians includes men of all stripes in different countries and eras--figures as disparate as More and Fourier, the Marquis de Sade and Edward Bellamy, Rousseau and Marx. Fascinating character studies of the major figures are among the delights of the book.

Utopian writings run the…


Who am I?

When I was a teenager, I thought we could create a perfect world—or if not quite perfect, at least much, much better than the one we are currently destroying. Actually, I still think it’s possible, just a lot harder and a lot more dangerous than I originally thought. I’ve been interested in all the efforts to imagine and create utopias, which sometimes produce hells instead of heavens, ever since. I have evolved (I think it’s progress) from being a high school Maoist to something more mature while watching China’s attempts to improve the lives of its citizens with respect and sympathy.


I wrote...

Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

By Peter Zarrow,

Book cover of Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

What is my book about?

I wanted to do two things with this book. First, to show how utopian ideas were circulating globally by the late nineteenth century. And second, to show how they played out in China in widely different ideas about politics: not just the obvious anarchism and socialism, but in new ways of thinking about Confucianism and liberalism as well. Focusing on four thinkers, only one of whom wrote a full-fledged utopia, I argue that a “utopian impulse” was key to their political theories. 

Ta T’ung Shu

By Kang Yu-Wei,

Book cover of Ta T’ung Shu: The One-World Philosophy of Kang Yu-Wei

This is modern China’s only full-fledged utopia (mostly written about 1900)—explaining how humanity gradually evolves to get rid of the “boundaries” dividing us by nation, class, race, and gender. It may take thousands of years, but history will create a truly democratic and equal society. Children will be raised in public nurseries, couples, including homosexuals, will enter into one-year (renewable) contracts. In thousands of years, the boundaries separating the species and even the gods will dissolve as well.

Ta T’ung Shu

By Kang Yu-Wei,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ta T’ung Shu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1958.

This volume translates one of the major works of modern Chinese philosophy and in so doing makes a major contribution to the study of comparative philosophy. The volume contains an extensive introduction structured as follows:

1. Biographical Sketch of K'ang Yu-wei
2. Ta T'ung Shu: The Book
3. A General Discussion of the One-World Philosophy of K'ang Yu-wei


Who am I?

When I was a teenager, I thought we could create a perfect world—or if not quite perfect, at least much, much better than the one we are currently destroying. Actually, I still think it’s possible, just a lot harder and a lot more dangerous than I originally thought. I’ve been interested in all the efforts to imagine and create utopias, which sometimes produce hells instead of heavens, ever since. I have evolved (I think it’s progress) from being a high school Maoist to something more mature while watching China’s attempts to improve the lives of its citizens with respect and sympathy.


I wrote...

Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

By Peter Zarrow,

Book cover of Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

What is my book about?

I wanted to do two things with this book. First, to show how utopian ideas were circulating globally by the late nineteenth century. And second, to show how they played out in China in widely different ideas about politics: not just the obvious anarchism and socialism, but in new ways of thinking about Confucianism and liberalism as well. Focusing on four thinkers, only one of whom wrote a full-fledged utopia, I argue that a “utopian impulse” was key to their political theories. 

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