Thursday, February 16, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President's Murder, by Susan Wels {ends 2/23}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

There was no doubt that President Hayes was straightlaced. He never smoked, swore, or drank liquor, and his wife, who banned alcohol from the White House, was known in the capital as “Lemonade Lucy.” But Hayes was surprisingly broadminded when it came to his first cousin John Humphrey Noyes. As governor of Ohio, Hayes told visiting Oneidans that he had “no prejudices” about their peculiar religious beliefs, “and was well pleased” at having a visit from them. He even toured the Community’s branch in Wallingford, Connecticut. Later, when he was president, Oneidans came to see him in the White House and presented him with a huge bear trap – although they were always careful not to embarrass him about their connection. 

This book covered a slice of history in and around the East Coast with information surrounding several presidents and their inter-relationships.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY - An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President's Murder, by Susan Wels {ends 2/23}
It was heaven on earth—and, some whispered, the devil’s garden.

Thousands came by trains and carriages to see this new Eden, carved from hundreds of acres of wild woodland. They marveled at orchards bursting with fruit, thick herds of Ayrshire cattle and Cotswold sheep, and whizzing mills. They gaped at the people who lived in this place—especially the women, with their queer cropped hair and shamelessly short skirts. The men and women of this strange outpost worked and slept together—without sin, they claimed.

From 1848 to 1881, a small utopian colony in upstate New York—the Oneida Community—was known for its shocking sexual practices, from open marriage and free love to the sexual training of young boys by older women. And in 1881, a one-time member of the Oneida Community—Charles Julius Guiteau—assassinated President James Garfield in a brutal crime that shook America to its core.

An Assassin in Utopia is the first book that weaves together these explosive stories in a tale of utopian experiments, political machinations, and murder. This deeply researched narrative—by bestselling author Susan Wels—tells the true, interlocking stories of the Oneida Community and its radical founder, John Humphrey Noyes; his idol, the eccentric newspaper publisher Horace Greeley (founder of the New Yorker and the New York Tribune); and the gloomy, indecisive President James Garfield—who was assassinated after his first six months in office.

Juxtaposed to their stories is the odd tale of Garfield’s assassin, the demented Charles Julius Guiteau, who was connected to all of them in extraordinary, surprising ways.

Against a vivid backdrop of ambition, hucksterism, epidemics, and spectacle, the book’s interwoven stories fuse together in the climactic murder of President Garfield in 1881—at the same time as the Oneida Community collapsed.

The book starts out with a lot of Horace Greeley’s life and background. As a newspaper man, his story mentions a lot of the other prominent figures and events of the time. It was a good way to lay out the general setting and political culture on which the rest of the book was based.

One of the ongoing curiosities of the time was communal living and different experiments of how this might succeed. The Oneida Community was launched by John Humphrey Noyes after a few unsuccessful attempts at the concept. He developed and set up production lines to fund the community, houses for them to live in together, "marriages" between all the men and all the women, and then personally arranged which conjugal unions were approved by his board. He was one of the "trainers" to initiate young women to physical relationships, and he also arranged for the young men to be trained by older women. It was definitely shocking, but they insisted it all worked for their community.

A resident of the Oneida Community on a couple different occasions was Charles Julius Guiteau, but his descriptions of himself were always as more of a leader than a follower. The book goes into his reasons for justifying his assassination of President James Garfield, and why he even disputed that he didn’t kill him.

Overall, the book gave a lot of insight to the time period and its historical figures. The book earned 3 out of 5 stars and definitely taught a lot about a potentially less popular period of U.S. history. It would be recommended to those who enjoy non-fiction, U.S. stories, political history, and late 19th century events.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini whose favorite seasons are spring, summer, and fallokay, anything but cold, messy winter. She shares about the books she reads both here and on her own blog,


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of An Assassin in Utopia!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, February 23rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen. 

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

An Assassin in Utopia, by Susan Wels


Post a Comment

Share buttons


Welcome to Books I Think You Should Read, which focuses on book reviews, author interviews, giveaways, and more.
Get new posts by email:

2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Liz has read 0 books toward her goal of 20 books.

Blog Archive