174: Doing Nothing by Tom Lutz

by Gerard

174: Lutz, Tom. Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. 320 pp. ISBN 978-0-86547-650-9.

Dewey Construction:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 170: Ethics (Moral philosophy)
  • 174: Occupational ethics

I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met in my entire life that wouldn’t want to sit around and do nothing if they could still maintain their standard of living. To be fair, there’s a difference between wanting to do things efficiently and waste the least amount of time, and not wanting to do anything at all. Tom Lutz, in Doing Nothing, focuses on the smart shirkers, not the smart workers—those people who have willingly and without remorse chosen not to contribute, not to work, and not to exert effort in American history. Ironically, it takes a lot of effort to do nothing.

The book is framed around the author’s supposed anger at his son who has just moved back home after high school and chooses to do nothing, much to the quiet and rageful chagrin of his father. Seeing his son’s indolence in the spectrum of history allows him to give it more context and validity. Lutz explores the culture of doing nothing, from the Idlers of the 1750s to the subsequent Lounger movement on through the transcendental woodsmen in the late 19th century. This thread is carried forward to the present with the advent of the beatnik dharma bums and slacker culture (although, slackers were “invented” in the late 1890s).

Lutz incorporates a wide-ranging array of data and cultural artifacts in this treatise. From Samuel Johnson’s diaries to movies such as Clerks and Office Space (and everything in between), he leaves very few stones unturned in his quest for historical laziness.

I enjoyed this book a lot. While some may be dismayed by the amount of historical data that seems to take the fun out of doing nothing, I liked seeing hard evidence of folks actively removing themselves from the work environment. Their struggles to do nothing invariably led to them trying hard to maintain the lifestyle. It also provided a nice juxtaposition to my just having run my first half marathon on Sunday. My legs were jelly for the last two days and it was a pleasure to be sprawled out on the sofa with a book about laziness.