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
Benjamin Hunnicutt was interviewed on radio station 95bfm in Auckland, New Zealand about his book on July 12 2013.
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."
"In his rather intriguing book, Hunnicutt examines the erosion of the pursuit of what today might be called 'quality time,' achieved by working just enough to provide basic sustenance.... Hunnicutt traces the ways in which various Americans sought to limit the hours people worked.... [He] concludes that with the post-WW II entrenchment of Franklin Roosevelt's 'Full-Time, Full-Employment' policy first introduced during the New Deal, and the increased commercialization and passivity of leisure, Americans have forgotten why and what they are working for. Summing Up: Recommended."
"Free Time is an impressive account of evolving thought about work, leisure, and progress in American history. It succeeds admirably in showing how prominent the shorter-hours vision was and provides many of the answers as to why that vision faded. Hunnicutt is thorough in documenting the various voices calling for Higher Progress through expanded leisure."
"[T]hought-provoking and insightful.... [R]eaders will be impressed by the depth and breadth of his analysis as Hunnicutt moves seamlessly between the words and deeds of public intellectuals, educators, and politicians to workers and labor leaders. Working class and (especially) labor historians, who often narrowly understand identity at the point of production, will surely benefit from Hunnicutt's analysis and the questions he asks, but scholars from a wide variety of fields and disciplines will also find this study useful and timely.... Hunnicutt's analysis is wide-ranging and thorough.... valuable for scholars and students alike."
"Free Time's strength is in its eclectic exposition of American ideas about the value and necessity of free time..... thought-provoking."
"As one of the handful of historians to research the vitally important yet incredibly neglected subject of work hours, all of Hunnicutt's work is essential reading for anyone in labor studies.... Free Time documents the decline of a leisure ethic, revealing some important forks in the road and some important splits within labor's ranks.... As part of a comprehensive history of the workday, this book is the only game in town chronicling the changes in an American leisure ethic.... This book remains important as a source of raw material and context for labor history specialists."
"Hunnicutt seeks to shed light on what he considers to be one of the great mysteries of our time: why did the long downward trend in work hours stall after the Great Depression? In seeking to unravel this mystery, Hunnicutt offers a panoramic view of both philosophical writings on the intrinsic merit of leisure time and the efforts of labor activists who sought to regulate work hours in the hopes of securing Walt Whitman’s “Higher Progress” for the working man and woman. It is the weaving of these two important currents that is the key contribution of this book."
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).