Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share


Michael Watts

 Indulge in a book
 Book events
 Get the latest news
 What others are saying
 For more from Michael

Michael Watts is professor of Geography and Chair of Development Studies at the University of California, Berkeley where he has taught for over thirty years. A Guggenheim Fellow in 2003, he served as the Director of the Institute of International Studies from 1994–2004. His research focuses on food and energy security, rural development, and land reform in Africa, South Asia, and Vietnam.

Purchasing Links

West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California
Editor: Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts, and Cal Winslow
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-427-4
Published: February 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 304 Pages
Subjects: History-California, Politics

In the shadow of the Vietnam war, a significant part of an entire generation refused their assigned roles in the American century. Some took their revolutionary politics to the streets, others decided simply to turn away, seeking to build another world together, outside the state and the market. West of Eden charts the remarkable flowering of communalism in the 60s and 70s, fueled by a radical rejection of the Cold War corporate deal, utopian visions of a peaceful green planet, the new technologies of sound and light, and the ancient arts of ecstatic release. The book focuses on the San Francisco Bay Area and its hinterlands, which have long been creative spaces for social experiment. Haight-Ashbury's gift economy—its free clinic, concerts, and street theatre—and Berkeley's liberated zones—Sproul Plaza, Telegraph Avenue, and People's Park—were embedded in a wider network of producer and consumer co-ops, food conspiracies, and collective schemes.

Using memoir and flashbacks, oral history and archival sources, West of Eden explores the deep historical roots and the enduring, though often disavowed, legacies of the extraordinary pulse of radical energies that generated forms of collective life beyond the nuclear family and the world of private consumption, including the contradictions evident in such figures as the guru/predator or the hippie/entrepreneur. There are vivid portraits of life on the rural communes of Mendocino and Sonoma, and essays on the Black Panther communal households in Oakland, the latter-day Diggers of San Francisco, the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, the pioneers of live/work space for artists, and the Bucky dome as the iconic architectural form of the sixties.

Due to the prevailing amnesia—partly imposed by official narratives, partly self-imposed in the aftermath of defeat—West of Eden is not only a necessary act of reclamation, helping to record the unwritten stories of the motley generation of communards and antinomians now passing, but is also intended as an offering to the coming generation who will find here, in the rubble of the twentieth century, a past they can use—indeed one they will need—in the passage from the privations of commodity capitalism to an ample life in common.


"As a gray army of undertakers gather in Sacramento to bury California's great dreams of equality and justice, this wonderful book, with its faith in the continuity of our state's radical-communitarian ethic, replants the seedbeds of defiant imagination and hopeful resistance." —Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Magical Urbanism

“Utopias—we can't live without them, nor within them, for long. In West of Eden we see California, an earthly utopia, and the Sixties, a utopian moment, in full flower. Brave souls creating a heavenly host of communal spaces on the edge of America, hoping to break free of a world of capital, sexism, oligarchy, race. An amazing place and time that, for all its failures, changed the world—and which finally gets its due in this marvelous collection.”  —Richard Walker, UC Berkeley, author of The Country in The City

“There are a lot of versions of the sixties, and this is one that isn't stale or familiar, a book by a lot of good writers and original thinkers about how some much older ideas about the commons and the community were tinkered with, enlarged upon, turned into experiments that sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed, but left legacies that mattered. It's also a book about California's tendency to go experimental, idealistic, and eclectic, a fit successor to the classic California's Utopian Colonies that looked at some of the great nineteenth-century experiments.”  —Rebecca Solnit, author of Storming the Gates of Paradise

“The counterculture—from the North Beach Parnassus to the underground press—and ‘the Movement’—from Marxists to anarchists—all of it depended on a magnificent base, and here it is described, magnificently: the Oakland breakfast program, the Alcatraz occupation, the Mime troupe, and pot farms, the communes, the collectives, the co-ops of California during the 1960s. On the lam? A bad trip? Burnt out? Cracking up? AWOL? Dropping out? Requiring metamorphosis? These could provide rural and urban alternatives to Cold War, patriarchy, speed-up, or death in the jungle. With roots in previous decades of struggle by trade unions, ethnic enclaves, religious breakaways, and nineteenth-century dreams, and with branches in the lore of our own contemporary foodways, child-rearing practices, decision-making and meeting protocols, sexual politics, and DIY culture, the California communards cleared the path. Both veterans and young folk, grey hairs and newbies will find beautiful memoire, authentic experience, and brilliant analysis in these pages West of Eden."  —Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Read Reviews | Return to the Top


For a calendar of speaking events, please click here


What Others are Saying



westWest of Eden in Humboldt Journal of Social Relations
by Sara Matthews
Humboldt Journal of Social Relations
Issues 36, 2014

West of Eden accomplishes the task of beginning the excavation of the American communing movements and provides an integral perspective, useful in any attempt to understand the complex political and social culture of northern California, southern Oregon,and, indeed, much of broader contemporary America.

Read more | Buy book nowDownload e-Book now | Back to reviews | Back to top

westWest of Eden: an excerpt in Tank Magazine
text by Jesse Drew
reprinted by Tank Magazine
March 2014

The next day, the five of us were moved from an attic hideaway to a commune in the countryside inhabited primarily by children, with adult collective members as teachers and guardians. We enjoyed roughhousing and playing games like the kids, but as teenagers we were also interested in pot, wine and sex:

we called ourselves the “Middle Earth” people. We were in the “kid’s collective” for about a month before it became obvious that the police and FBI were edging closer to us. We became aware of a strange clicking on the telephone, neighbours being questioned by strangers, the feeling of being observed – the warning signs that would eventually become routine for us.

Read more | Buy book nowDownload e-Book now | Back to reviews | Back to top

westWest of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California: A Review
by P. Harvey
A Journal of Social & Behavioral Sciences

September 2012

This excellent, unique collection comes via the joint efforts of a multidisciplinary team of scholars as well as first-person accounts of activists and others. Together, they provide a large variety of perspectives from the most removed and scholarly to the most personal and passionate regarding communal experiments (including everything from the late Berkeley Co-Op store to deep experiments in communal living around Mendocino) in an area rife with experimental forms of living in the 1960s and after. The result is a study of, meditation on, and defense of the role of communal experiments and utopian dreams in US history. The opening essay by Timothy Miller puts these stories in a long historical perspective, while a closing essay by Michael Watts discusses more broadly the international context of the events of the 1960s. Lee Worden considers how ideas borne in countercultural communes invaded the spaces of Silicon Valley, often with libertarian effects. Part II includes material on Native American activism at Alcatraz and on the Black Panthers, while Part III prints reminiscences of communes on the Mendocino coast. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.

Buy book nowDownload e-Book now | Back to reviews | Back to top


westWest of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California: A Review
by Seth Sandronsky
Z Magazine
July/August 2012

If you favor the Occupy Wall Street moment, you might also savor the personal and political flavors of communal living during the 1960s and 1970s. In West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California, 13 contributors enlighten us about these alternate living and working arrangements.
Of the editorial quartet who oversaw this book, seven years in the making, two are from the city and two from the country. Iain Boal of Berkeley situates West of Eden’s four-part focus around the historic dynamics of rural and urban “communing.”

Read More | Buy book nowDownload e-Book now | Back to reviews | Back to top

westWest of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California: A Review
MidWest Book Review

A new way of doing things attracted many in the cultural revolutions of the 1960s. "West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California" is an exploration of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s, it looks at the many attempts at new societies in the region, from communes throughout the region, Native Americans claiming Alcatraz, and much more. The editors within compile an insightful and storied look at these attempts at a more perfect society and their results. "West of Eden" is a fine addition to social studies and history collections, highly recommended.

Buy book now
Download e-Book now | Back to reviews | Back to top


westStudents, Colleagues Mourn Passing of R. Jeffrey Lustig, Contributor to West of Eden
Berkeley Patch
By Seth Sandronsky
July 16th, 2012

“Jeff was a mentor to me in how to be a public intellectual,” said native Berkeleyite Kevin Wehr, 40, a sociology professor at Sac State and current chapter president of the California Faculty Association. “I met him through our work in the union six years ago, and he was an inspiration and a model for scholarly engagement with public issues."

Read More | Buy book nowDownload e-Book now | Back to reviews | Back to top

More from Michael...

Story Options


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

The Unknown Revolution: 1917-1921

The Road Through San Judas