In 2005, J.C. Hallman came across a scientific paper about “Pleistocene Rewilding,” a peculiar idea from conservation biology that suggested repopulating bereft ecosystems with endangered “megafauna.” The plan sounded utterly utopian, but Hallman liked the idea as much as the scientists did—perhaps because he had grown up on a street called Utopia Road in a master-planned community in Southern California. Pleistocene Rewilding rekindled in him a longstanding fascination with utopian ideas, and he went on to spend three weeks at the world’s oldest “intentional community,” sail on the first ship where it’s possible to own “real estate,” train at the world’s largest civilian combat-school, and tour a $30 billion megacity built from scratch on an artificial island off the coast of Korea. In Utopia explores the history of utopian literature and thought in the narrative context of the real-life fruits of that history.
Hallman (The Chess Artist), reflects that “as a rule, utopias slip” and it's from this perspective that he explores six contemporary versions of an “exuberant plan or philosophy intended to perfect life lived collectively.” Hallman explores Pleistocene Rewilding, a plan to introduce lions and rhinoceroses into the American landscape to fulfill the ecological functions of extinct animals such as saber-toothed tigers and giant sloths. He joins Twin Oaks, the 43-year-old community based on the ideas of behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner and travels to Italy to gastronomically compare futurism with the slow food movement. Perhaps the strangest utopia he encounters is the World, a co-op cruise ship for the wealthy, endlessly traveling the seas. Certainly the scariest is a proposed Second Amendment-inspired town, Front Sight, where all citizens would be armed. Hallman entertains with an ironic, Alain de Botton style of erudite bonhomie and scads of self-referential postmodernism, but his intellectual embrace is copious and his conclusion sincere: “the failure of good intentions should not be met with inaction, but with further good intentions, with better intention.” (Aug.)