No this is not a warning from a Buddhist sage about the perils of following a spiritual leader. ” Beware the ultimate guide my child as they lead not to enlightenment, but to……….” No this is by way of a book review and a book plug. While compiling the resources section for the latest edition of Diggers & Dreamers (D&D) I came across what appeared to be the book we had always intended to write. A ‘How-to-do-it, warts-and-all, everything-you need-to-know-about-communal-living, but-were-afraid-to-ask’ book. I had made this description up in my mind entirely on the basis of the title and the slightly humorous cover illustration.
A while ago we tried to pool our collective knowledge on the editorial team of D&D and write our own how-to-do-it guide. Aware that any UK based material available was either; very dated and hard to get hold of (Aka The Collective Housing Handbook.), specific to a particular type of community (As in the Radical Routes How to Set Up a Housing Co-op.) or American based (Like the books by Diana Leafe Christian.) – our efforts resulted in a Wiki section on our website where we invited (without much success) others who lived communally to contribute their thoughts and advice. Unfortunately after a couple of years the Wiki suffered a terminal attack from cyberpornbots from which it has never recovered. So the idea that someone else had done the job for us was intriguing to say the least. Who was this person? Which community did they live in? Why didn’t we know them?
The Ad on Amazon said ;
” You’re about to discover the crucial information about communal living. Millions of people have already experienced the amazing benefits that communal life has to offer. It can be overwhelming if you have been thinking about living in a shared arrangement and you haven’t been able to find quality information on the topic. You need to understand the risks and benefits before jumping right into it. As someone who has lived this type of lifestyle, I want to provide an unbiased view at what you can expect. .”
All very good I thought. Below there were reviews from ‘Verified Purchasers’.
“What an informative and eye-opening book. The author makes a great case for communal living backed up a great deal of historical insight and perspective…..”
” This is an excellent guide to communal living for anyone considering this type of arrangements. The book provides a balanced and obviously well researched look into the good and the bad sides of communal living……. “
On the basis of this, I admit rather scant, but positive information we listed the book in the new D&D Useful Books section. And in the rush to get our new book published I thought no more about it . Now months later I was looking for another book and got one of those – Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed – messages and I decided to take a further look at the ‘Ultimate Guide’. Which it turns out I perhaps should have done so before. I should have perhaps taken notice of the price £2.53 and the page number – 46. And if I had scrolled down the reviews I would have seen “Disappointed because it is more like a pamphlet. It’s only 3 very short chapters. Not worth price.” – That is not worth £2.53! Oh Dear, this was starting to look very unlikely to be “the book we had always intended to write” after all. So I splashed out and ordered a copy.
Well the ‘Ultimate Guide’ ultimately arrived – 10 days after other books ordered at the same time. And yes it was ‘disappointing’. Not only were there only three chapters, but the text was on the large size, 16pt at a guess, with double spaces between paragraphs and poor layout resulting in a number of pages with only a few words on them. Making the the distance between the hype of the title and the reality of the booklet very large indeed. Starting to feel like a researcher for Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish I thought I would see if I could find out anything about the author. A quick internet search revealed that he was also the author of the following titles; Squatting: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide for Understanding Why, How, And Where People Squat, Hoarding: The Ultimate Guide for How to Overcome Compulsive Hoarding, Saving, And Collecting., Free Running: The Ultimate Guide for Understanding Parkour And What You Must Know About It and Isolation Tank: Understanding the Sensory Deprivation Tank and What You Need to Know. All available to purchase for under £3.
As to the content of the ‘Ultimate Guide to Communal Living’; if it had been offered as a ‘meditation on communal living – after the author had read a few websites and maybe lived in a shared house when they were a student’ Then maybe I wouldn’t have been so disappointed, or feel so cynical. The section on the history of communal living briefly covers Plato’s Republic and that’s about it, before name checking the Twelve Tribes communities as an example of successful modern day communal living. The section on Types of Commune Systems is slightly better giving a brief overview of Kibbutzim, hippy ‘back to the farmlands’ groups, and ‘co-homes’ (otherwise known as cohousing). The most interesting bit in the book is a brief mention of Seasteading, a movement to try and establish floating cities, which the author admits will be expensive to build and probably only affordable by a privileged few.
The booklet ends with the words “good luck on your journey.” Anyone setting out to try and join an intentional community or to set one up will find very little help from the ‘Ultimate Guide’. To give the author some due he does actually mention both the Fellowship for Intentional Community’s website and the Diggers & Dreamers website. But you would be hard pressed to know it as there is no mention of either of the sites names or any link to the URLs for the sites.
Which brings me to the plug: We don’t make any claims to be the ultimate anything to do with communal living at Diggers & Dreamers – though one reviewer did once refer to us as being “The Communards Bible” – for the past two and a half decades we have tried to chronicle the ups and downs of communal living in the UK both in print and on our website. After 5 years when we have been focussed on producing books about different types of communal life – Cohousing in the Britain and Low Impact Living Communities in Britain – to celebrate our 25th Anniversary we have gone back to the old format of journal and directory, with over 100 listed communities and articles about different aspects of communal living; including parts of the ill-fated How-To-Do-it Wiki mentioned above. For more details on the book and how to get hold of a copy see here: Diggers & Dreamers; The Guide to Communal Living. 25th Anniversary Edition.