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Boredom: A Lively History Paperback – April 17, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"As for his engaging new book, Toohey needn’t worry: Boredom, with its wise insights, is never boring."—Carmela Ciuraru, Boston Globe
(Carmela Ciuraru Boston Globe)

"Readers who are willing to meander from science to literature to art and other realms will find themselves engaged."—Nina C. Ayoub, The Chronicle Review
(Nina C. Ayoub The Chronicle Review)

“There are plenty of fine things here to keep a receptive mind alert.”—Alain de Botton, The Times
(Alain de Botton The Times 2011-04-02)

“Few writers on boredom can match Peter Toohey when it comes to finding pleasure, excitement and even a perverse kind of glee in his subject.”—Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Daily Telegraph
(Robert Douglas-Fairhurst The Daily Telegraph 2011-03-26)

"Mr. Toohey presents his case with verve."—Elizabeth Lowry, Wall Street Journal
(Elizabeth Lowry Wall Street Journal)

'Peter Toohey is a wonderful scholar, whose work on classical literature both instructs and delights.' - Darian Leader
(Darian Leader)

'Forget ennui: Peter Toohey makes the case that the simpler, everyday kind of boredom we all experience is far more important than the pretentious world-weariness of French philosophers. Being bored can be excruciating, but it can also spur people to the heights of creativity. Toohey succeeds in making boredom interesting.' - Dylan Evans, author of Emotion: The Science of Sentiment
(Dylan Evans)

'Who would have thought that boredom could be so stimulating?' - Michael Foley, author of The Age of Absurdity
(Michael Foley)

"A thoroughly enjoyable exploration of the history a maligned emotion, which according to the author, may actually be designed to help us flourish."—The Bookseller
(The Bookseller 2011-01-14)

“[Toohey’s] crisp conversational prose is untainted by jargon or pretence. His arguments display impressive erudition: history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and aesthetics all get a guernsey. If good writing requires authorial boredom, Toohey was undoubtedly tortured by tedium while writing this sharp, humane and funny book.”—Damon Young, The Australian
(Damon Young The Australian 2011-03-19)

“…quirky and contentious.”—Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday
(Stuart Kelly Scotland on Sunday 2011-03-27)

“Toohey has lots of exciting things to say about boredom.”—Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday (Craig Brown The Mail on Sunday 2011-04-03)

“In Boredom: A Lively History Peter Toohey, a professor of classics, makes a strong case for boredom as a universal emotion, experienced by humans throughout history and throughout all cultures, with many practical and emotional benefits.”—Ian Sansom, The Guardian
(Ian Sansom The Guardian 2011-04-23)

“…… [Toohey] writes breezily and entertainingly about one of the world’s most boring subjects: boredom itself.”—Tim Heald, The Tablet
(Tim Heald The Tablet 2011-07-02)

"[Toohey] makes a persuasive case that there are even benefits to boredom, and at the very least this engaging read proffers a temporary antidote to the noonday demon."—Kelly McMasters, Newsday
(Newsday Kelly McMasters)

"Highly entertaining."—Gordon Pitz, PsycCRITIQUES
(Gordon Pitz PsycCRITIQUES)

“….a playful but scholarly study.”—Sunday Herald
(Sunday Herald 2012-02-05)

“It’s a brave author who chooses boredom as the subject for a book. How to describe this least glamorous of emotions, or delve into its essential qualities, without concocting a truly dull tract? Peter Toohey’s method is to whip through the history, meaning and artistic representations of boredom at such a jaunty pace that there’s no time to be bored at all.”—Helen Zaltzman, The Observer
(Helen Zaltzman The Observer 2012-02-26)

"A lively, eminently readable book."—S. Halling, Choice
(S. Halling Choice)

“Toohey’s book is a veritable boredom bible, plus it’s got some funny bits and lots of nice pictures.”—Chris Moss, Time Out
(Chris Moss Time Out 2012-03-01)

“A fun and illuminating argument for the benefits of boredom.”—Angus Clarke, The Times (Angus Clarke The Times 2012-03-24)

About the Author

Peter Toohey is a professor in the Department of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Calgary. His previous books include Melancholy, Love and Time: Boundaries of the Self in Ancient Literature. He lives in Calgary, Canada.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (April 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300181841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300181845
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #721,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this lively and entertaining collection of musings and learned a lot from it. Dr Toohey has read a lot of books to kill the time. In fact it is largely a book made out of other books. The author does not present his own experimental work and is not a psychologist by training. (The jacket and the New York Times review seem to suggest that living in Calgary is enough to make you an expert on boredom.) He gives clear and interesting explanations of what philosophers say about emotions. He believes that boredom is not necessarily a bad thing.
The sections on neurology tell us, among other things, that smell sensations travel from the nose to spinal pathways and thence to the insula.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An interesting book that makes a case for the positive aspects of boredom as well as documenting the influence that boredom has had on art and literature. Worth a quick read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let me save you some money and several hours of your life. Toohey's thesis in this book is that "simple boredom" and "existential boredom" are different, and while simple boredom has existed since time immemorial, existential boredom is a creation of modern philosophy. By his definitions, existential boredom is essentially chronic depression/dysthymia, and simple boredom is a lack of engagement with your activities due to being trapped in repetition. He thinks this distinction is maniacally important, and spends a large portion of the book claiming that few previous researchers note this difference. In reality, few draw this distinction because it goes without saying. Depression and boredom overlap and interact, but are distinct. His position that existential boredom is a creation of modern man is categorically false, given that depression has been described for ages. At best, the name "existential boredom" is relatively new.

After opening the book with a 40 page chapter showing low-quality images (at least in the paperback version) of artwork depicting or implying boredom, Toohey spends the remainder of the book causing boredom. His idea of a history of boredom is to over-interpret artwork that may or may not depict boredom. He teaches us that a chin resting in the hand may depict boredom, and that a lack of people in an image implies it. When the author himself gets bored, he throws in another piece of artwork (27 in all) and spends a page or two talking about what boredom looks like.

It takes the author 181 pages of demonstrating to the reader that he's discovered the thesaurus feature of MS Word to come to the conclusion, "And so it seems that curing boredom seems to be related to managing empty time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Peter Toohey, a professor at the University of Calgary, author of "boredom: a lively history," has brightened his 190 text pages with 27 illustrations. His sharp insights inspire closer looks at art, photographs, history, and ourselves, as he traces the varied postures of boredom, the appearance and universal fascination with boredom by painters, thinkers, authors, playwrights, historians, scientists, photographers, and just about everyone who has ever been bored. And who hasn't? Mr. Toohey has done an exhaustive search of anyone who has ever touched upon the subject. That he has completed his compilation in so few pages is pleasing and not boring at all.

Mr. Toohey's location at the University of Calgary, approximately 200 miles north of Glacier National Park (shared by the U.S. and Canada) might seem out in the boondocks and a bit boring, but that is not the case. Calgary, Alberta, is a very large metropolitan area some 50 miles east of the Canadian Rockies. The city, the university, and the professor, as the book reveals, are good to know.

Mr. Toohey has a pleasant tentative way of expressing himself. He presents the facts as he has gathered them, letting the reader form his or her own conclusions, while offering his own in a self-effacing way. And he can be subtly funny. I have never met Professor Toohey other than in his book, but I think I should like to sit in at the back of some of his classes. In a calm and straightforward way, he would most assuredly not be boring.
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