A magisterial overview of the history of the fight for leisure in the United States
The Forgotten American Dream
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Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt
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.
"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. Hunnicutt provides an incisive reinterpretation of major intellectual figures whose understanding of God, sin, and predestination were melded into a celebration of the intrinsic goods that freedom from work could make available once basic material sustenance had been achieved. His scholarship is persuasive, and his book is a needed reinterpretation of labor history. It has clear relevance to some of the central debates in our politics today. I had a hard time putting Free Time down."
"Hunnicutt suggests new, valuable ways of thinking about the ways the standard workweek emerged in the United States. It is the first time the question of work hours and the concept of ‘Higher Progress’ has been articulated over a period spanning more than two hundred years. Hunnicutt’s ability to trace the ways this concept changed over time is one of the book’s key strengths. Free Time is a unique contribution to labor history."
"[Hunnicutt] offers a chronological description of the developments that have, over time, stymied our pursuit of the 'American Dream.' Hunnicutt's tenacious, years-long dedication to this topic is impressive."
Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt is an historian and professor at the University of Iowa. He is also the author of Kellogg's Six-Hour Day and Work Without End: Abandoning Shorter Hours for the Right to Work (both Temple).