If you’re looking for books on utopia, you’ve come to the right place. Below are 11 of the best books that portray visions of a utopian future you have to read.
The idea of a utopia is of a society that functions without strife and is considered to be a ‘perfect society. Many of these books have been fictional examples of utopia, which have succeeded or failed. While others are works on how we could establish a utopia in our own world.
What these books about utopia have in common is that they’re all fascinating reads and offer a lot of fascinating insights into the human condition. Some of them are pleas on how to make the world a better place, while others are warnings at what utopian thinking could lead to.
Some of the selections are famous Utopian books, while others are more obscure. But what all of these books will do is entertain you and make you think about humanity and society.
Utopia is the book that coined the phrase. Written by Thomas More in the 16th century. It describes an imaginary society that is almost perfect in nature where the citizens live in harmony.
It’s only a short book, but it’s a fascinating read. Utopia describes life on the island and how the society there is organised. There’s no private property, a welfare state and even euthanasia. Another policy that shows the age of the book is the legality of slavery on the island.
This is a reminder that what might have been Utopia in More’s day isn’t our interpretation of Utopia today.
There’s some debate as to whether More’s work was critical of the structures of society at the time. Given the nature of the work, it’s likely it is. Even though he was a devout member of the Catholic Church, Utopia doesn’t shy from criticising the church.
Considering it’s the book upon which the term comes from, there’s no doubt it’s one of the best books on Utopia.
Utopia For Realists
Utopia For Realists is a book by the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman which describes three ways we can make the world a better place. Hence the use of the word utopia.
Bregman propose we introduce a universal basic income, a 15-hour workweek and open borders. Policies he states would lead to less poverty, better overall happiness and more opportunities for those in less developed countries.
These ideas might seem like pie in the sky optimism, but they are backed by evidence and not as fanciful as you might think.
Support for universal basic income is increasing all the time and has been rolled out in various countries. A 15-hour workweek was predicted to have occurred by the end of the 20th century by the economist John Maynard Keynes. With the rise of automation and advances in technology, it might yet come to pass.
Open borders are the most optimistic of the three, but there are examples of this already. The Schengen Zone in the European Union and Australia and New Zealand operate an open borders policy. With political will, this can be achieved across the globe, leading to more prosperity.
Bregman’s lofty goals and his reasoning behind them makes Utopia For Realists one of the most fascinating utopian books you can read.
Brave New World
Brave New World may not seem like a utopian book but the society portrayed in it purports to be a utopia.
In this society set in a futuristic state, humans are engineered through artificial wombs and indoctrination. A drug called Soma is also regularly administered to citizens to soothe them and keep them placid.
While it sounds like Brave New World should be on a list of books on dystopias, it’s on this list for a reason. The simple reason is utopia often ends up turning into a dystopia of some form.
Aldous Huxley was ahead of his time and his book is a reminder that most political systems which purport to create utopias on Earth end up creating the opposite. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia spring to mind.
This is why it’s on my list of best books on utopia. It’s a reminder that however grand the visions of utopias are, the reality is often painfully different.
Republic is one of the most famous books about utopia. It was written by the Greek philosopher Plato and describes the workings of the ideal city-state as set out by another eminent philosopher of Ancient Greece, Socrates.
Although it’s over two thousand years old, the ideas discussed are still relevant today. There are historical anachronisms but the overall ideas should still concern us today.
There’s some debate as to whether these are the actual thoughts of Socrates, or whether Plato used Socrates as a rhetorical device through which to propagate his own ideas.
Throughout Republic, discussions take place on the ideal way to run a society. Various types of regimes are discussed such as democracy, oligarchy and tyranny. Eventually, Socrates settles on a society run by a philosopher-King as the ideal way to organise a society.
The discussions of this nature are profound and also constitute what makes a man just or unjust. Many philosophical questions are posed and Republic is worth reading if you have any interest in the subject of politics.
Looking Backward is one of the lesser-known books on utopia in this list, but it’s one of the most fascinating. I read this book as part of a history course I took at university.
It was one of the best books I read on that course and left a lasting effect on me. The book details the tale of an American Julian West, who falls asleep in Boston, Massachusetts in 1887 and wakes up again 113 years later in 2000.
A large part of the book looks at what was changed between West falling asleep and waking up. He finds society is much different with private property nationalised, how working hours have been reduced and how goods are almost instantaneously delivered.
When it was written, Looking Backward was one of the most popular books of its time, and the author Edward Bellamy became a popular figure. So much so, that many Bellamy Clubs, political clubs affiliated with the ideas in his book, sprung up across America.
The ideas in Looking Backward may seem a little quaint given the knowledge we have today. Nonetheless, it’s still one of the most profound utopian books and will certainly leave you with a lot to ponder once you’ve finished!
PostCapitalism is a book by the English journalist, Paul Mason which looks at how society can be reorganised in a better manner in the future.
It was written with the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash in mind and critiques capitalist economics and proposes how we can move towards a ‘postcapitalist’ society that is more humane and fair.
Mason is a good writer and his ideas are interesting. Some of them, such as a universal basic income and breaking up monopolies are commonplace nowadays. Especially after the events of the last financial crash and the Covid pandemic.
But, it’s important to take a step back and not get too enamoured with his suggestions. Like all books that propose a utopia, it’s best to not get too carried away with the contents of PostCapitalism.
But like Rutger Bregman, Mason’s suggestions are helpful and, if implemented, could lead to a better society for us to live in.
Seven Days in New Crete
Seven Days in New Crete is a novel by the author Robert Graves that’s set in a future society on the island of Crete.
The novel follows the story of Edward Venn-Thomas, who has been transported from the twentieth century into the future. As he finds himself in New Crete, he realises that the society he discovers has no hunger, no war and no dissatisfaction.
A fitting example of a utopia!
Where the story takes a turn is that instead of enjoying this idyllic lifestyle, Venn-Thomas begins to find it boring and decides to inject some evil into a society that’s completely devoid of it.
Seven Days in New Crete is a great example of a utopian society that has improved the lives of its citizens but removed key elements of what it means to be human in the process.
It’s one of the best books about utopia, as it causes us to ponder whether a bit of malice and suffering is necessary for life to be worthwhile.
The City of The Sun
The City of The Sun is one of the earliest examples of Utopian literature. It was written by the Italian Dominican philosopher Tommaso Campanella in 1602, not long after he was imprisoned for heresy and sedition.
Inspired by another book on this list, Republic, Campanella’s book introduces us to a theocratic society where goods, women and children are common property.
His work is a philosophical one and imagines a society where a theocracy pervades and governs a world under a peaceful monarchy.
Time has proven Campanella’s vision to be outdated but given the Spanish conquest of the Americas in the years previous to the publication of his book, it’s not hard to see why he wrote what he did.
Despite its age, The City of The Sun is one of the best examples of fictional utopian cities and is well worth a read!
Men Like Gods
Men Like Gods is a novel by the acclaimed science fiction author, H.G. Wells. The novel follows the story of Mr Barnstaple who is a journalist working in London.
One day as he’s driving, his vehicle and two others are transported into a world that exists in a parallel universe. It’s similar to their own, although they are some three thousand years ahead of Earth and operate with a Socialist government.
Mr Barnstaple and his fellow ‘Earthlings’ are quarantined on an island after their arrival starts a brief epidemic in the utopia. But, it’s not long before some of Mr Barnstaple’s fellow companions become restless.
Men Like Gods is an interesting utopian novel to read and it’s not hard to see what Wells was trying to suggest when he wrote it. The positive notions of utopia exemplified in the novel are supposedly what led Aldous Huxley to write Brave New World as a sort of parody.
Still, it’s a good book on utopias to read if you want to understand what our contemporaries one hundred years ago saw as the ideal society.
A Modern Utopia
A Modern Utopia is another of H.G. Wells novels to make it onto this list. It was published before Men Like Gods in 1905 and is probably the more famous of the two.
The novel tells the story of two travellers who fall into a space warp and find themselves in a Utopian world controlled by a single world government.
It’s funny that nowadays the idea of a single world government is seen as a form of dystopia. While Wells portrays it as a form of utopia. It’s a brilliant example of how ideas and beliefs can shift over generations.
There has been speculation that A Modern Utopia is more of a political treatise of sorts rather than a novel and reflects Wells’ ideas on what an ideal society should look like.
To our modern tastes, it probably resembles more a dystopia than anything utopian.
Always Coming Home
The final book on my list is Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, Always Coming Home. Her novel describes the story of the Kesh people, who live in the distant future after society has collapsed.
Le Guin’s novel is different to the others as it’s more of a collection of different styles with narratives, part textbook and the recordings of an anthropologist too.
This is what makes Always Coming Home such an interesting read, as you have to make your way through the varying styles.
The society in Always Coming Home is much more low tech than the one we inhabit today. Le Guin’s idea of a utopia could be interpreted as a return to simpler times and the depiction of contemporary civilisation as ‘the sickness of man’ would suggest this is the case.