When I took a west coast vacation in Tofino last summer, I took along Justine Brown's All Possible Worlds: Utopian Experiments in British Columbia (New Star). This slim coffee table book chronicles the history of utopianism in the most western of Canadian provinces—a place described by some of the book's visionaries as the North American "end of the line."
Brown tells some wonderful tales of the hopelessly misguided, overzealous and simply ill-prepared folks who tried to construct their own version of paradise west of the Rockies. The best is the fantastic story of Brother Twelve, who set up his "Colony of Truth" on De Courcy island near Nanaimo, on the premise that the entire world, except Vancouver Island and environs, would end on January 1, 1934. Twelve raised funds, appointed a high priestess with whom he "performed intricate night-time rituals," and was brought to trial in Nanaimo for embezzlement of funds. (He was "miraculously" acquitted by a jury who, some still claim, were hypnotized by Twelve.)
Brown includes some wonderful lesser-known tales of the Scandinavian communes organized in the late 1800s, and some interesting glimpses of the back-to-the-land movement that flourished in the 1970s, some of which continue today. Her stories, however, are short, and her chapters generally end abruptly, with little linkage among the various histories.
I would have liked Brown to choose between an analytical portrait of the Utopian phenomenon and a series of clearly defined sketches. But the ideal is often elusive.