Utopian Dreams: A Search for a Better Life by Tobias Jones (Faber, Pounds 12.99)
TOBIAS Jones is a man with a burden on his back.
Weighed down by the ills of modern society, he's struggling to understand who we've become and what we want in this crazy, post-9/ 11 world. Everywhere he looks he see cynicism and rampant individualism, empty consumerism and phoney aspirations to better lifestyles - not, you will note, to better lives.
Idealism, he announces, is dead. But then, following a hunch that individualism was responsible for bumping it off - and in the absence of any real organising principle, Jones's hunches are what give this book direction - he sets out to rediscover the virtues of collectivity.
With his wife and baby daughter in tow, Jones decides to spend a year living inside a number of different communities, each chasing its own utopian dreams and each firmly located on terra cognita - which, for an Englishman based in Parma, means Italy or Britain. Are these communities onto something we didn't know, or had maybe forgotten?
First stop is Damanhur, a New Age community in the Piedmont hills, where beneath layers of floaty hemp clothing the residents are consummate entrepreneurs. They may have daft names (like Sparrow Hawk and Violet Hare), a sacred language, a cultish leader (formerly an insurance salesman), and an underground temple that doubles up as a planetary transmitter. But when they're not wittering on about personal growth, they're shouting urgent instructions into mobile phones and tending to business interests in nearby Turin.
Disillusioned, Jones concludes that he's stumbled into a "community of individualists".
Jones isn't really interested in Damanhur.
He's gone there to give New Agery the hiding it deserves. Nor is he much moved by the Sicilian Libera Terra movement, the only other secular outfit in the book, which, rather nobly, rehabilitates drug addicts to cultivate land …