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Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of Crying, a witty, wide-ranging cultural history of our attitudes toward work — and getting out of it.
Couch potatoes, goof-offs, freeloaders, good-for-nothings, loafers, and loungers: ever since the Industrial Revolution, when the work ethic as we know it was formed, there has been a chorus of slackers ridiculing and lampooning the pretensions of hardworking respectability. Reviled by many, heroes to others, these layabouts stretch and yawn while the rest of society worries and sweats. Whenever the world of labor changes in significant ways, the pulpits, politicians, and pedagogues ring with exhortations of the value of work, and the slackers answer with a strenuous call of their own: "To do nothing," as Oscar Wilde said, "is the most difficult thing in the world." From Benjamin Franklin's air baths to Jack Kerouac's dharma bums, Generation-X slackers, and beyond, anti-work-ethic proponents have held a central place in modern culture.
Moving with verve and wit through a series of fascinating case studies that illuminate the changing place of leisure in the American republic, Doing Nothing revises the way we understand slackers and work itself.
"Lutz eases readers into this sparkling cultural history of stylish American torpor with an anecdote about his 18-year-old son, Cody, moving into his house and bivouacking on the couch — perhaps indefinitely. Lutz himself spent a decade before college 'wandering here and abroad,' so his intense anger at Cody surprised him — and inspired him to write this book about the crashing fault lines between Anglo-America's vaunted Calvinist work ethic and its skulking, shrugging love of idling. An English professor who admits to being personally caught between these warring impulses, Lutz (Crying) has a gimlet eye for the ironies of modern loafing: that the 'flaming youth' of the 1920s were intensely industrious; that our most celebrated slackers (Jack Kerouac, Richard Linklater) have been closet workaholics; that our most outspoken Puritans (Benjamin Franklin, George W. Bush) have been notorious layabouts. Lutz's diligent research on a range of lazy and slovenly subjects, from French flneurs to New York bohos, ultimately leads him to side with the bums. Flying in the face of yuppie values and critics of the welfare state, his 'slacker ethic' emerges over the course of this history as both a necessary corrective to — and an inevitable outgrowth of — the 80-hour work week." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Given his subject, it's perhaps fitting that Lutz rambles on at a slacker-like pace as he traces the rise of this lovable if exasperating cultural type." Los Angeles Times
"Though a serious study of spongers, this wry book is fun to read. With layabouts such as Theodore Dreiser, the Beats, and our epoch's own Anna Nicole Simpson on offer, cultural-history mavens won't be able to pass Lutz up." Booklist
"[Full] of supporting cultural and historical references, this is an entertaining, enlightening, and engaging history." Library Journal
"[Lutz's] incredibly engaging and offbeat meditation on the history of the American work ethic and its development over the past few centuries, and the various counter movements that have arisen to challenge it." Denver Post
"A thoughtful and very thorough author...[Doing Nothing] left me with a deeper appreciation for the value of not working. In fact, I wish I could do more of it. Alas, I cannot: these toenails aren't going to clip themselves." Dave Barry, New York Times Book Review
"A superbly detailed analysis of how our culture has reflected on these issues throughout time. Each historical period — from the first machines of the Agricultural Revolution, through the Industrial Revolution, through two World Wars and up through the dotcom '90s — is carefully examined....The questions it raises will remain the topic of serious discussion for many years to come." Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
Tom Lutz's previous books include Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears; American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History; and Cosmopolitan Vistas. He lives in Los Angeles.
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