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3.5 out of 5 stars
Utopian Dreams
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2007
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
on 14 April 2008
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
on 20 November 2007
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. Deliciously human, the moment speaks for itself without the need for further analysis. I wanted the whole book to be like this!

But it isn't, and whilst Tobias's observations of western consumerism are poignant and necessary in order to provide some sort of contrast to the communities he visits, the reason for the 'great escape' as it were, they have also been made before, in rhetoric of both greater and lesser eloquence. They could also have been made more briefly and saved some trees in the process.

I wanted to know more about the characters he met, their personal histories, their world outlook and so on. What we are given instead is teasing glimpses, punctuated by Jones' commentary on Bentham's utilitarianism and Rousseau's earthy idealism. If I wanted to know more about dead philosophers I'd be reading their works not his!

Of course their are connections to be made between the thinkers of the enlightenment and alternative communities that have abandonned societies without balance, virtue or permanency. But Tobias Jones makes them too often and his conflicted defense of religion is as nauseating as Richard Dawkins rottweiler-like attacks on it.

I haven't read 'The Dark Heart of Italy', which is reportedly superb, so I won't cast judgement on Tobias Jones' abilities as a travel writer. But when I read travel books I want to get lost in the places and the people, not the mind of the person writing them.

For anyone else that loves travel books where observations are subtle, and secondary to description, I would recommend Wendell Staevenson's 'Stories I Stole' or any of Tim Parks' efforts. Parks, ironically, is also an Englishman who fell in love with Italy and now lives in the country.

I would like to end this review by saying that 'Utopian Dreams' isn't an awful book. Its just that the combination of a reputed writer and a subject matter that really interests me had led me to expect a lot more.
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on 26 April 2015
Inspiring and down-to-earth at the same time.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2008
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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on 21 August 2015
Brilliant. Funny, moving, engaging
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10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2008
I was unfortunate enough to have to read this awful book at my book club. This is a wasted opportunity to explore an incredibly important subject. It is a disconnected account of communities picked at random, presumably to demonstrate the numerous quotations Tobias Jones had already excerpted from other writers. The result is a list of aphorisms. This is also not a genuine journey (either literally or metaphorically) of the writer. It does not generate empathy, as its author comes across as a smug individual with high regard for his intellectual talent. It is unfortunate then that he reads like a frustrated teenager having his first attempt at writing an essay. His "insights" are mere platitudes. For instance, we have to reach three quarters into the book for him to observe that an individual's identity is shaped by the community in which he/she lives, whether by contrast or alignment to the norm. Is this really a revelation for someone who has been apparently preoccupied with the place of the individual in society enough to write a book on it? I am most concerned that this book has such positive reviews both on Amazon and in the press. Clearly there is a reviewing crowd which appreciates this double whammy of platitude and aphorism. Its only redeeming quality is that, like all bad books, it generates a good - yet demolishing - discussion. Tobias Jones has some very good reasons to be feeling "apocalyptic" as he keeps reminding us in the book; they simply are not the ones he suspects.
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2006
Utopian Dreams is my book of the year. Just when we were all about to despair... along came Tobias Jones. This book is erudite, wise, lucid, clever, humble and very important; a profound joy and a complete relief. Here is someone expressing what we are all thinking, sorting out the confusion, and offering a way out of the mess we're all in. I'll be recommending it to anyone and everyone who'll listen and buying a copy for everyone I love. Amazing.
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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2007
Utopian Dreams is my book of the year. Just when we were all about to despair... along came Tobias Jones. This book is erudite, wise, lucid, clever, humble and very important; a profound joy and a complete relief. Here is someone expressing what we are all thinking, sorting out the confusion, and offering a way out of the mess we're all in. I'll be recommending it to anyone and everyone who'll listen and buying a copy for everyone I love. Amazing.
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5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 8 July 2007
I read this work of non fiction, blind of the authors previous work and based mainly on the subject matter.

While the author aims to compare and contrast what we understand by the term, `community', and its many manifestations, I felt his ambition was not fulfilled in the examples he chose to live in. It must be challenged as to how he could fully immerse himself in said `community' when he took his wife and child everywhere. Surely this provides its own ` community within'. The tendency to restrict ones expeditions to Italy and the UK, also limit his experiences, as do his research beforehand that already created presumptions that seem hardly challenged.

I'm unsure whether this was a `pseudo travelogue'. If it was, it failed. If it was an investigation into the concept of community, it may have some valid points, though points where not succinct or accurately illustrated to conclude anything in particular.

This said, I found some experiences intriguing and begged further examination. Unfortunately, this was not he form the book took.
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