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Utopian Dreams Hardcover – 11 Jan 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (11 Jan. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057122380X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571223800
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.4 x 22.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 284,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tobias Jones is an author, journalist, broadcaster and woodsman. An authority on all aspects of contemporary Italy, he has published both travel books and novels set in the country. He's written and presented documentaries for the BBC and, in Italy, for RAI. He's been a columnist for the Observer and Internazionale and is currently the warden of Windsor Hill Wood, a woodland shelter for people going through a period of crisis in their lives. He writes extensively about communal living and new monasticism, and is known to be passionate about Fabrizio De Andre, Ross MacDonald, carpentry, bee-keeping and pig-rearing. His ambition is to produce his own woodland ham to rival Parma ham.

Product Description


'Jones's experiences prompt some interesting reflections on modern ideas of religion and community.' -- Observer

'You admire [Jones's] open-mindedness.' -- Daily Mail

(an) erudite, informed and provoking exploration of community and
individuality. -- Rory McLean, Sunday Telegraph

A quite amazing book ... a superb blend of narrative and analysis
questioning and enacting various notions of 'the good life'. -- Conde Nast Traveller

A revelation... of great interest. -- Doris Lessing, Start the Week

Jones is an informed guide, and much of what he writes is
intelligent and thought-provoking. -- Toby Lichtig, Observer

The writing about people and places is vivid and enchanting.
-- Bill Saunders, Independent on Sunday

Book Description

Utopian Dreams, from Tobias Jones - the bestselling author The Dark Heart of Italy - is a different kind of travel book, exploring the meaning of community and solitude.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan S. on 27 Jan. 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tobias Jones with his family stayed in five different communities over a period of a year. He is dissatisfied with every day life, like most us of lead and seeks out the company of people who have aspired to be something different.

He certainly spreads his net widely, visiting communities in Italy and England. The communities reviewed include the new age community in Damanhur, the orphanage of Nomadelfia, a Quaker old age community, a cooperative in Palermo and a community for down and outs in Pilsdon.

All except the first, receive a favourable review. Far from these communities being a cop out, he sees them being very innovative as they have had to overcome a lot of resistance and perform a very good service to those in need.

The author finds a different type of Christianity, often muted, that is the wellspring of these initiatives. There are some interesting thoughts e.g. `liberty can't be the liberty to do whatever one wants. Its only when one has a life project, when one has made choices that settle with clarity the end you have in mind, that you're truly free.' Another saying is ` you often get cornered by people who introduce themselves as charismatic healers: for me, the best healing is simply manual labour.'

This book, with its unusual study of communities, deserves to be better read, not only for its in depth study of communities, but also for the deeply engrossing study of genuine Christianity, all too brief, that is its source. The book reaches a surprising conclusion.

I would have liked to have heard more of his wife's reactions to these communities to give the book a slightly richer flavour: this is my only quibble.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Williams on 14 April 2008
Format: Hardcover
Utopian Dreams, by Tobias Jones, is part travelogue, part philosophy. Tired of the frustrations and empty promises of consumer culture, he sets off on a search for something more meaningful. With his wife and child, he takes a year out to visit a series of communities in the UK and Italy.

The journey takes them to the new-age paradise of Damanhur, the Catholic orphanage of Nomadelfia, the Rowntree Trust's ideal Quaker retirement village, an Italian anti-mafia cooperative, and finally a rural community in Dorset. He is forced to re-evaluate his priorities, as he mixes with priests and peasants, hippies, tramps, ex-cons, drug addicts. In the midst of it all Jones discovers freedom as a life goal, rather than the absence of boundaries. He finds purpose and expression in manual labour. He has to re-think his view of the Christian faith he grew up with and now questions.

Utopian Dreams is a great exploration of the whole idea of community, and of those who choose to model an alternative to our consumer culture. Speaking honestly and humbly about his own search for a good life, Tobias Jones proves a useful observer of the idealists, dreamers, frauds and prophets behind these bold social experiments. It ends back at home, where Jones has discovered a community at the end of his street. Fittingly, it is here that he commits himself, with all the counter-cultural patience and permanence it requires.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Rickleton on 20 Nov. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who, like me, expected to encounter a genuine study of alternative communities in Tobias Jones' travel book Utopian Dreams, will be well displeased by a project that had so much potential, but ultimately got lost amidst its author's self indulgent penchant for repetitive meta-narrative.

In all fairness, I should have paid more attention to the books subtitle; 'In search of a good life'. Even then, the front cover should have stipulated more clearly that it was Tobias Jones' search for a good life rather than the communities he visited! I estimate that the first chapter, in which he visits the alternative community of Damanhur in Italy is 25% experience and 75% reflection. Granted, this is the community that Jones has least time for and the ratio settles at around 40:60 for the remainder of the book, but when I read a travel book I want to read stories, rather than recycled rhetoric and supposedly enlightening quotes from Kant, Voltaire et al.

His prose is at times entertaining and at others, toe-curlingly trite. Take this as an example of soundbites that occurs throughout the book: '..in the New Age the obsession is about humans becoming divine; at Nomodelfia its about the divine becoming human.'

A few pages previous to this particular quote he details a conversation about faith and evolution between one of the elders in the Nomodelfia community (the second community he visits) and an adolescent called Alessio. It is a magical paragraph in the book because it concerns the unadulterated interaction of members of this community (and possible tensions within it), rather than Tobias' ism-tainted observations thereof, or their interactions WITH Tobias, or Tobias' musings on what's missing in his own life etc etc etc.
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By David on 26 April 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Inspiring and down-to-earth at the same time.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful By D.J.M. on 16 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback
This book could have been so good. A young author, dismayed by the lack of worthwhile values in the world he inhabits, sets out in search of a better life. Accompanied by his wife and baby daughter, he stays in five diverse communities in England and Italy, ranging from a 'New Age' settlement in northern Italy to a Quaker-inspired retirement village near York.

I wanted to learn about these places, about the way of life of their inhabitants, the values that hold them together as communities,and about the lessons they can teach us.

Tobias Jones devotes very little space in this turgid book to addressing those questions. He is far more interested in trying to impress the reader with his pretentious philosophical rambling, extensive quotation from numerous learned sources, and copious footnotes. Perhaps this could have worked if the book were structured and intelligent; unfortunately, it is neither. For someone who apparently thinks himself very clever, Jones seldom writes a coherent sentence, let alone one that is interesting.

This book is boring, pretentious, and repetitive; and it tells the reader very little about the five communities that are supposedly its subject-matter. If you are interested in Utopia, do not read this book.
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