In a striking formulation, Ophélie Siméon describes her study as “an intellectual biography through a sense of place” (9). The subject of the intellectual biography is Robert Owen (1771–1858), the enlightened manufacturer turned universal reformer—and the father of British socialism. The place is the New Lanark Mills, the idyllic Clydeside factory village Owen superintended from 1800 to 1825. Owen's spectacular entrepreneurial and humanitarian successes as a paternalistic manager served as the springboard for his subsequent career as a radical activist and socialist pioneer. Concomitantly, the prosperity and happiness of the New Lanark community during his tenure provided “a founding myth of British socialism” (6). Siméon's project is to replace this myth of New Lanark with a fine-grained account of the reciprocal relationship between Owen's incipient “social system” (later “socialism”) and the milieu in which it took shape (9). And she succeeds admirably at this project.

Marshaling an impressive array of...

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