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Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America Paperback – May 15, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 flâneurs 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. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Samuel Johnson identified literary loafers in his periodicalIdler (1758-60), and here Lutz lays sharp-eyed analysis on society's reaction toward those who repudiate regular work. Productively informing his appraisals of the Thoreaus and Kerouacs with his own youthful experiment in communal^B living, Lutz weaves no grand theory of the slacker because he finds that wastrels have been different in every generation. In the late 1700s, a disinclination to work was an aristocratic affectation. In reaction to industrialism, the back-to-nature primitivist appeared, embodied by Thoreau, while cultural vulgarity made the Gilded Age vulnerable to the effete cynicism of an Oscar Wilde. In Wilde and others, Lutz nails, with concise sophistication, the mix of anger and amusement such nonconformists provoked. 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. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 086547737X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865477377
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,427,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got this book largely because I was curious as to how anyone could write a history of people who did nothing. Afterall, people who do nothing wouldn't do enough to leave a history behind (that follows, doesn't it?)

Well, Lutz surprised me. People who do nothing, or at the least strive to not work, are quite an interesting crew. I ran into a lot of famous people I had never thought of as loafers before: such as Ben Franklin and Samuel Johnson. Of course the usual suspects were also there: like Kerouac and Ginsberg (and the beats in general.)

The author seems to suggest that he is something of a slacker himself. But I found that hard to believe as clearly a great deal of work went into this book. The amount of digested reading, research, review of culutral materials such as films, etc., was impressive. The writing was also quite good. Either Lutz is a very good writer or he has an excellent editor. I say that because he wove a large amount of disparate material into a fascinating narrative about people and segments of society committed to doing nothing. The pace was never boring; while the amount of information presented was always informative and stimulating. And as I read, sprawled out on the couch, I found myself reflecting more deeply on just where I fit into the argument of, to work or not to work.... I guess I'd have to say that Doing Nothing proved to be an edifying read.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Doing Nothing: A History Of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, And Bums In America by Tom Lutz is the true story of the American anti-work ethic from Benjamin Franklin's "air baths" to Jack Kerouac's dharma bums to the notorious slackers of Generation X to doctors declaring the medical problems of overwork and much more. The history, philosophy, and justification of goofing off, supplemented with careful research and statistics, makes for engaging reading whether for expert sociologists researching the cultural phenomenon's of shirking or lay readers making the most of their own relaxation time. A true pleasure to read cover to cover, especially while the reader is allegedly at work.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Clary Antome on May 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you happen to be the kind of person who prefers week-long naps to making a career and winces every time somebody starts talking platitudes about the value of work, the need to "strive" or the immorality of idleness, here's a book for you.

In it you will find lots of references to more or less respectable intellectuals and artists who spent a great deal of their time celebrating the "slacker" ethos (before the term even existed) by advocating our inalienable right to do nothing. Of course, apart from gaining fame (or infamy) for their ideas, none of these people was actually able to overthrow the prevalent "work ethic", which proudly claims that "happiness" and "fulfilment" can only be achieved if you toil your life away.

So what IS it that makes the slacker such a nagging presence in Western culture? This is what Lutz tries to answer by looking at the development of this figure in America.

Not surprisingly, one of the first things we are told is that the "work ethic" and its converse, the "degenerate" idleness, can be traced back more or less to the Industrial Revolution. Apparently before this period humans wasted less time extolling the virtues of work. The hunter-gatherers, as we well know, were so "primitive" that they thought sleeping and playing around were just about the greatest luxuries one could enjoy - and they had plenty of that. The ancient Greeks even went so far to consider work a "curse". And we all remember how much Jesus praised the lilies in the field for... well, just standing there not doing much.

What has changed, then? Lutz's answer: "the nature of work".

As more and more people were dispossessed (i.e.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By E. Heinzman on July 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who's ever questioned the actual industriousness of Ben Franklin, envied the sylvan sloth of Henry David Thoreau, or felt indignant over the perceived indolence of Douglas Coupland will find (most of) the real story in Tom Lutz's entertaining survey of American productivity and slackerdom. Lutz begins on the couch, where his teenage son, Cody, has parked his lethargic, jobless self, leading Lutz to meditate on his own lack of motivation as a youth and throughout his life. From there, he journeys through the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions through to the dot-com explosion, chronicling the lives, philosophic musings, and artistic output of lazybones and workaholics alike.

I understand how Lutz may have wanted to just focus on white American males--following the author's adage of "writing what you know"--but there are definitely other illuminating slacker narratives created by, for, and about people of color, such as the Cheech and Chong films and Ice Cube's "Friday" film trilogy. In a section on the Greed is Good 1980s, Lutz mentions the GOP's criticisms of welfare queens during that decade, but gives no nods to any black's, Latino's, or Asian-American's takes on their own ethnic groups' laziness. (Doing Nothing includes a funny description of slackers in Japan--with that country's obvious parallels to ours in terms of work ethic, job dedication, and overwork--but that's about all the non-white ethnic representation.) May political correctness have kept him from writing about America's "brown loafers?"

In a note that will likely reveal my age, my favorite chapters talk about the Beats, hippies, punks, and dot-commers. Lutz addresses the child-like dot-com work ethic and web sites dedicated to all things slothful. If the book is ever updated, he'll have to talk about blogs and social networking sites--the NEWEST kind of self-branding and self-identifying that requires a lot of time and energy, but not a whole lot of real brainpower or sweat.
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