Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream

Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt. Temple Univ., $34.95 (236p) ISBN 978-1-4399-0715-3
In this ambitious, episodic book, Hunnicutt (Work Without End), a professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa, 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 the writings of a panoply of historical thinkers, from Walt Whitman to Frank Lloyd Wright, and the labor movement’s fight for fewer working hours, the book hopscotches through the past two centuries, tracing the progress and devolution of a concept. This concept, which, pace Whitman, Hunnicutt labels “higher progress,” is intimately tied up with the idea of leisure. Tweaking current thinking, which labels work as a good in itself, the author shows that Americans didn’t always view labor as an object of intrinsic merit. For example, labor activists fought for shorter work days because they wanted people to be free from toil and able to pursue higher goals, at first understood as religious, but later articulated as secular tasks, such as continuing education. While Hunnicutt’s focus on the history of ideas makes his book at times feel too abstract to bring home his argument, he offers a provocative and valuable history of a neglected idea. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/19/2012
Release date: 01/01/2013
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