An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President’s Murder

Pegasus. Feb. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9781639363124. $27.95. CRIME
Wels (Titanic: Legacy of the World’s Greatest Ocean Liner) weaves together several narratives centered around the assassination of President James Garfield and the Oneida Community, a controversial 19th-century communal society. John Humphrey Noyes, who believed that Christian perfection is attained through overthrowing societal taboos, led the group into practicing and condoning incest and pedophilia. Despite this, Noyes found supporters, including publisher Horace Greely, resident Rutherford B. Hayes, and hundreds more. Charles Guiteau, one of its members, assassinated President Garfield. It is this connection that guides the book. The intersecting narratives can be difficult to follow, with many historical figures introduced throughout the telling, often with diminutive connections to the protagonist of the climatic event.

CORRECTION: In the original review, the author’s last name was misspelled; it is Wels, not Weis. LJ regrets the error.

VERDICT Still, readers will find Guiteau’s devolution into an assassin and the history of Oneida both fascinating and shocking, with uncanny parallels to today’s news stories.
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