Robert Owen, a British mill-owner and reformer, treated private property,
along with organised religion and marriage, as a social scourge.
In 1825 he bought land for a farm-and-factory commune in Indiana.
It attracted farmers, artisans and intellectuals.
Tools, food and housing were free. The commune had mixed-sex schools and a library.
It sponsored scientific research. Without a shared faith or purpose, however, the members split into competing groups.
By 1827, Owen's secular community had disbanded.
The difficulty of pursuing micro-communism in a capitalist society also dogged Cabet's American followers.
His New World Icarians split into several rival groupings.
Shakers, Owenites and Icarians focused, each in their own way, on duties.
They sought to tame human selfishness. Gloomy as he looked in portraits, the Frenchman Charles Fourier concentrated on fun.
His writings inspired the Brook Farm commune near Boston and, less directly, Oneida.
Fourier wanted to free people's instincts so that everyone, especially women, might lead a life of varied enjoyments and sensual delight.
Stripped of emphasis on sex, Fourier's message that a good life was a cultivated life,
not one of striving and work, appealed to New England intellectuals who formed Brook Farm's core.
“Paradise Now” is more than a record of failed hopes. Some ideas spread to the mainstream. Fourier's feminism is a good example.
Fourierist communes foundered across the New World and Old; his ideas about gender equality lived on.
No society could improve, Fourier believed, until women's lot improved.
“The best countries”, he wrote, “have always been those which allowed women the most freedom.”
That is a common thought today. It was radical when Fourier wrote it in 1808.
Women more generally are at the centre of the Utopian story.
Some communes he writes about were democratic, some authoritarian.
None was patriarchal. Mr Jennings's book is rich in fond hopes and improbable ventures.
Rather than nudging readers to mock, which is easy,
the author reminds them instead to remember that the maddest-sounding ideas sometimes become motherhood.