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New York Times Bestselling Author

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New Release

An Assassin
In Utopia

This true-crime odyssey—a New York Times Editors Choice—explores a forgotten, astonishing chapter of American history, leading readers from a free-love community in upstate New York to the shocking assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 by a former member of the community. This deeply researched narrative is the first book that weaves together these explosive stories in a tale of utopian experiments, political machinations, and murder. 

An Assassin in Utopia

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The New York Times

Filled with "rollicking pleasures...Wels's kaleidoscopic romp is an undeniable thrill."

The Washington Post

 "Packed with colorful characters and well-chosen details, this book is an engrossing account of Victorian-era American eccentricity."

The Wall Street Journal

"A crammed curio-cabinet of a book, An Assassin in Utopia offers an engaging glimpse of the times. Informative and entertaining."

Library Journal

"Fascinating and shocking, with uncanny parallels to today's news stories."

Sacramento News &


"An Assassin in Utopia offers readers a page-turning narrative full of surprise and scandal."

New York Journal of Books

"A beguiling tale bursting with utopian dreams, murderous ambitions, and the bewildering cons of P.T. Barnum...Wels's sprawling, shocking story of the whacko Gilded Age will undoubtedly keep readers turning pages."

Juggling incels and libertines, the mighty and the mightily deranged, Susan Wels deftly brings us this close to an amazing cast of real-life 19th-century characters—admirable and horrific, brilliant and doomed, messianic and utterly mad—making them (and their vivid emotions) newly relatable to our era, while weaving them in and out of her fascinating narrative as expertly as a Shondaland show might. You'll be casting An Assassin in Utopia in your head, even as it demonstrates that Free Love is anything but, and that one man can make a difference, often in the worst way possible. This is like David McCullough on acid.

— Chris Connelly

ESPN and ABC News

Advance Praise 

Susan Wels has assembled a large and rowdy cast of characters in this immensely enjoyable and engrossing book. Self-proclaimed messiahs, patronage-dealing politicians, ink-stained journalists, table-rapping mediums, tent-raising charlatans: All are trying to  make their mark in Gilded Age America. And, remarkably, all their paths cross in An Assassin in Utopia, with surprising and tragic results.

— John Kelly

The Washington Post



Written with verve and dash, An Assassin in Utopia is a delightful romp through an intriguing and little-known part of 19th-century US history.

— Anne Goldman

Author of Stargazing in the Atomic Age, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2021

Susan Wels is a gifted and masterful storyteller. Her book is a fascinating and well-told tale of a presidential assassination and sexually unbridled would-be utopia. She provides vivid, nuanced details of the time and some of its most interesting characters—including publisher Horace Greeley, showman P. T. Barnum, feminist and foreign correspondent Margaret Fuller, the spirit-seeking Fox sisters, a cross-dressing Union spy, and major political figures of the period. An Assassin in Utopia is a deeply researched, riveting book told with impressive command and narrative power. I strongly recommend it.

— Michael Krasny

Emeritus professor of American literature and retired host of public radio's KQED Forum





Susan Wels is a bestselling author, historian, and journalist. Her book Titanic: Legacy of the World’s Greatest Ocean Liner spent fourteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list; it was also a Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and USA Today bestseller. Her other books include Amelia Earhart: The Thrill of It, Pearl Harbor: America’s Darkest Day, The Olympic Spirit: 100 Years of the Games, Stanford: Portrait of a University, and San Francisco: Arts for the City—Civic Art and Urban Change, 1932-2012.  


Her work has been praised and published by The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington PostPEOPLE, Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine, the New York Post,, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, the San Francisco Examiner, the San Jose Mercury-News, and the Daily Express and The Independent in the UK.

A  graduate of Stanford University in English literature and journalism, she has a master's degree in history from San Francisco State University.​ She has worked on assignment around the world and served as correspondent on the Titanic Research and Recovery Expedition, reporting daily from the site of the Titanic in the North Atlantic. She and her husband have two daughters and divide their time between the San Francisco Bay Area and their farm in the south of Chile.

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