Toby Green is the author of Thomas More’s Magician: A Novel Account of Utopia. The book tells the story of Vasco de Quiroga who, using Thomas More’s Utopia as his blueprint, forged a commune on Mexico City’s outskirts.
1. Republic by Plato
Not always seen as being within the utopian genre, but Plato’s Republic was the first work of world literature to envisage an ideal state, and to lay down concrete parameters as to the activities of each and every class within society.
2. Utopia by Thomas More
Of course! Eponymous founder of the genre; brilliant mixture of satire, political idealism, and obfuscation of the author’s own views. More’s book has been seen by some as an attempt to justify colonisation of the Americas, by others as a dreary state of Catholic dogma and by his champions as a proto-communistic vision. The book’s very indeterminacy is testament to its constant inventiveness.
3. The City of the Sun by Thomas Campanella
In the same idealistic strain as More’s book, sharing the vision of religious harmony and of genuine communitarianism. Like More, Campanella placed his ideal state in a distant land – near Ceylon – and like Plato, he envisaged a society run by a beneficent elite. A book that is resonant of the high watermark of the humanist utopian ideal.
4. New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
Although published only 25 years after The City of the Sun, Bacon’s book belongs to the early enlightenment period. Bacon pictures a world in which scientific experiment could be the core of the progress of an enlightened state. As such, the book is testament to the changing conceptual framework of the early 17th-century, though, like Campanella and More, Bacon set his ideal state in a remote location, this time the South Pacific.
5. Erewhon by Samuel Butler
One of the most brilliant utopian novels, using a mixture of devastating satire and compelling narrative to both decry the developments of mechanised labour and to show how society might be better run. Terrified by the prospect of machines ruling the future, Butler was essentially suspicious of any model of perfection, mocking people who “really do know what they say they know”.
6. News from Nowhere by William Morris
The most visionary of the many socialist utopias conceived at the end of the 19th-century. Beautifully written, it imagines someone from this period waking up in the future and finding an earthly, pastoral, socialist paradise.
7. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
A precursor to much more famous works by Huxley and Orwell, this antidote to totalitarianism, written by someone who genuinely knew what that sort of existence was like, is the anti-Stalinist dystopia to beat them all – even Brave New World, 1984, and Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.
8. Island by Aldous Huxley
Huxley’s last novel within the utopian genre, and one of the three or four most successful of that genre. It puts forward genuine proposals for better ways of living – including more agricultural work, mutual adoption clubs for children, societies which are largely vegetarian – while retaining realism as to the likelihood of their acceptance.
9. The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
Brilliant utopian satire and exploration in which a capitalist planet – Urras – and its ecotopian satellite – Anarres – are described by Le Guin with pathos and realism. Urras is corrupted by its “propertarianism”, but things are not perfect on Anarres by any means – individual creativity is stifled, and nothing changes.
10. Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
Imagines an ecostate, which seceded from the USA in 1980, and lives in sentimental co-existence with nature – the working week is reduced to 20 hours, bus travel is free and trees are planted on old boulevards. A blueprint for a green future.