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Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream Paperback – January 11, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


Choice, July 4, 2014: In his intriguing book, Hunnicutt examines the erosion of the pursuit of what today might be called "quality time." Labor was [once understood] to be only the ends to a means, the ultimate goal being what Hunnicutt calls "Higher Progress." Hunnicutt traces the ways in which various Americans sought to limit the hours people worked. The goal was to leave sufficient time and energy for personal enrichment, first spiritual then secular, ensuring democracy in the process. Americans have forgotten why and what they are working for. Recommended

From the Institute for Policy Studies, "New and Notable" books, July 15,2013: 
In these compelling new pages, Hunnicutt aims at nothing less than "re-presenting" the traditional American dream as "a compelling and inspiring alternative to the current dream of eternal consumption, wealth, and work." Generations ago, Americans . . . understood that . . . the chase after unlimited wealth,  . . .  would never go hand in hand with the happiness that fulfilling leisure can bring. Hunnicutt believes that, too. So will his readers.

Publisher's Weekly, In this ambitious book Hunnicutt traces the debasement of the "American Dream" from its original intent as a means for personal and community development to its current usage as the pursuit of material wealth. Drawing on a panoply of historical thinkers, he [traces] the progress of the concept. For example, labor activists fought for shorter work days because they wanted people to be free to pursue higher goals, at first understood as religious, but later articulated as secular tasks. He offers a provocative and valuable history of a neglected idea.

From Scott McLemee's review in Inside Higher Education Aug 28, 2013. "[The book] deserves wide attention, and would provoke a more meaningful conversation about the past, present, and future than we're likely to have otherwise." Full review at

 "Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt's new book could hardly be more timely.  His central theme--that the American dream once was not confined merely to ever growing levels of abundance--is all the more relevant in an era of climate science denial and anti-environmentalism of various sorts. . .  I had a hard time putting Free Time down."--John Buell, author of Politics, Religion, and Culture in an Anxious Age

Book Description

Has the "American Dream" become an unrealistic utopian fantasy, or have we simply forgotten what we are working for? In his topical book, Free Time, Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt examines the way that progress, once defined as more of the good things in life as well as more free time to enjoy them, has come to be understood only as economic growth and more work, forevermore.

Hunnicutt provides an incisive intellectual, cultural, and political history of the original "American Dream" from the colonial days to the present. Taking his cue from Walt Whitman's "higher progress," he follows the traces of that dream, cataloging the myriad voices that prepared for and lived in an opening "realm of freedom."

Free Time reminds Americans of the forgotten, best part of the "American Dream"-that more and more of our lives might be lived freely, with an enriching family life, with more time to enjoy nature, friendship, and the adventures of the mind and of the spirit.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press (January 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439907153
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439907153
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #549,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By G. Schmitt on February 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I came to know about Mr. Hunnicutt from his statement in a documentary "Frohes Schaffen" (happy working) by Konstantin Faigle in German TV. Being so amazed of the topic "labour-leasure" I started to read context literature and first of all "free time". This book helps me a lot to sharpen my view and understanding of our development as social and working beings. Other authors like Richard Sennett do not have this sound historical review like Benjamin Hunnicutt. I guess not only Europeans learn what the American Dream is/was all about. This old dream seems to be too modern - like WW - at present but is worth trying to start again. And it needs books like this to have a better idea where we stand now and how to start to get on track again.
The book is easy to read for those who are not native English speakers - like me. The Kindle version is much cheaper than the printed book, it comes with a dictionary and shipment abroad lasts a second. Can you ask for more?
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jessica DeGroot on December 4, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ben Hunicutt begins his book, FreeTime: The Forgotten American Dream, by stating:

“At one time economic progress and technological advances were understood to have a definite goal: abundance. After adequate economic progress was made so that everyone was able to afford the necessities of life (it was believed) our nation would be able to make real progress, exploring liberty that transcended material concerns and the marketplace …

“No longer preoccupied with economic concerns, we could begin to develop our potential to live together peacefully and agreeably, spending more of our time and energy forming healthy families, neighborhoods, and cities; increasing our knowledge and appreciating of nature, history and other peoples; exploring our beliefs and values together; finding common ground for agreement and conviviality; living virtuous lives; practicing our faiths; expanding our awareness of God; and wondering in Creation.”

This goal can even be found in the Declaration of Independence – our unalienable rights, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Hunicutt traces the 200 year history of Americans fighting not just for better wages, but also for an increase in leisure, achieved by a steady decrease in work time. Whether these Americans believed “that shorter working hours offered them a practical way to make real the freedoms promised” by the revolution, or after the Civil war when the fought to free themselves from the chains of the “capitalist world where competition, control, and self-seeking infused” every transaction

Women, side by side with men fought for these changes - using phrase such as “bread and roses” to capture their combined agenda of increased wages and increased leisure.
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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bob Nolin on December 1, 2013
Format: Paperback
The goal of "Free Time" is to remind us about "the forgotten American Dream," which is not, as you might think, home ownership. As I learned from the book, once upon a time, and for well over a hundred years, the most fervent hope of working class America was to be able to spend less time at work. I found it fascinating to learn that, as the Industrial Revolution brought in automation and a reduction in the need for labor, pretty much everybody believed that the future would certainly lead to a shorter and shorter work week. Eventually, we'd all work just a few hours a week. Not a few hours a *day*, but a *week*. This idea held sway for such a long time (up until the end of WWII more or less), it's a wonder it has disappeared from the history books and from our collective memory. The history of this idea takes up most of this book, and is fascinating reading. What's puzzling about this book is that the author seems to believe that we lost our way, pretty much due to FDR caving on a bill that would have led to shorter work hours as a way to increase employment. Instead, FDR flip-flopped and began to espouse a "Full Time - Full Employment" philosophy, which has been our mantra ever since. We lost sight of the original American Dream. What happened, it seems to me, is that as technology began to produce more and newer things, we began to want more and newer things. It's basically human nature, to continue to grasp after that which we do not have. It's a vicious circle. We would be happy if only we had [new product, new home, new spouse, new job]. Then we get that thing, and soon realize, no that wasn't what would make me happy, it's [some other new product, etc.].

This is so obvious that I don't understand how the author could fail to see it.
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