This book chronicles the “communistic societies” of the US in the mid to late 1800s. In only one case is the society actually devoted to Communism in the Marxist sense. In all other cases, the societies are devoted to religious principles.
The societies have interesting common characteristics, including unwavering devotion to a religious ideal (in one case, Communism), a shared ethnic heritage, a strong central organization, a nearly universal working-class character, no appreciation of the finer things in life, and relatively small societies.
Mr Nordhoff is careful to point out that the societies were successful (much like the Kibbutz in Israel). In comparison to other members of the working class, Nordhoff believes the societies did very well, indeed.
In all, an interesting work of some fascinating communities (their Constitutions are often reprinted in the book, they alone make the time it takes to read the book worthwhile). The book is a good reminder that communism (small c) has been with the US since before the Constitution and before Marx ever picked up a pen.
Lest I had any remaining doubt that communism wasn’t for me (I didn’t), Nordhoff reminds the reader that “some things the communist must surrender; and the most precious of these is solitude.”