By Adam Gopnick, New Yorker
Michael Robertson’s “The Last Utopians: Four Late Nineteenth-Century Visionaries and Their Legacy” (Princeton) is instructive and touching, if sometimes inadvertently funny. The instructive parts rise from Robertson’s evocation and analysis of a series of authors who aren’t likely to be well known to American readers, even those of a radical turn of mind. All four wrote books and imagined ideal societies with far more of an effect on their time than we now remember. The touching parts flow from the quixotic and earnest imaginations of his heroes and heroine: the pundit Edward Bellamy, the designer William Morris, the pioneering gay writer Edward Carpenter, and the feminist social reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. His utopians showed enormous courage in imagining and, to one degree or another, trying to create new worlds against the grain of the one they had inherited. They made blueprints of a better place, detailed right down to the wallpaper, and a pleasing aura of pious intent rises from these pages.