I found Free Time to be pretty captivating. It offers an exploration of the historical, technological, cultural, and political factors that have influenced both how much free time we have in our modern society, and our satisfaction with it. Ramifications for the future are also discussed. (It focuses largely on the United States and sometimes references European countries, but the author makes this disclaimer up front.)
There are a lot of layers to Cross’s analysis, and though he says it is written for a general audience, I do think it leans more academic in writing style and in the concepts covered. (Maybe not surprising, given the publisher is NYU Press.) The book is also broad in scope, and so some parts are painted with a broad brush. But, I don’t mind any of that.
Cross roots his analysis in an exploration of conflicting class attitudes, ideals, and expectations around free time. He explores how these orientations toward (and sometimes failed expectations of) leisure time have persisted and/or evolved throughout different eras, as well as the impact of recent technological and cultural shifts. A wide array of topics and activities are discussed. It was interesting to see trends/threads illuminated and to examine what that means for our current cultural norms around free time.
While the very end of the book is more future-oriented, I didn’t find the discussion to be too prescriptive, and I thought the entire book was balanced in its perspective. Those who enjoy specific histories or social sciences will likely appreciate this book.
*Thank you to NetGalley and NYU Press for the opportunity to read a free eARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.*
This read more like an academic paper than a book and I found the writers style off putting as well as classist and reinforcing the construct of a gender binary.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of this book.
We all love our free time and chase the opportunity to take advantage of even a few minutes of it. However, in the age of social media, smartphones, and advanced technology, it feels as if we don't have any. Ironically, many years ago prior to the industrialization age, free time was a foreign concept. Once there was a reduction in the hours worked on a weekly basis, free time became more of a thing. Gary S. Cross, a Professor of Modern History, details the evolution of free time and the different ways in which we have and could take advantage of this.
I was hoping for a more interesting perspective from Mr. Cross with this book. However, I felt like the topic was too broad. I understand he wants to discuss the history of free time, but he ended putting together a hodge podge of information with jumpy and disjointed transitions. In addition, the overabundance of information was hard to follow and boring after a while.
The synopsis of this book asks the question "How did leisure activities transition from strolling in the park for hours to 'doomscrolling' on social media for thirty minutes?" I felt like Cross focused more on the history prior to the 21st century and merely included the history of the 21st century thus far as an afterthought. I was also hoping Mr. Cross would have answered why we lack so much free time presently, and the book didn't answer this at all.
Frankly, I think this book could have been summed up in an academic journal article instead of a book that was just shy of 300 pages. It's an interesting topic, but this book was just disappointing and dull.
Intriguing History Of The Concept. Straight up, this is an academic writing this book... and the typical academic leftist anti-capitalist themes are quite prominent throughout the text. So rather than defenestrate the book (as some will very much want to do) and to save the author some 1* reviews that are nothing more than "this was just anti-capitalist trash!!!!!"... if you can't at least accept that this is the position the author comes from... this may not be the best book for you.
As far as the overall history and presentation goes, it is actually rather intriguing. Cross's examinations of "high culture" and "genteel" Victorian leisure ideals vs "low culture" entertainment of the masses is quite extraordinary in just how detailed he gets in showing the stark differences here. When Cross begins to get more into the 20th century and showing the mass increases in productivity and the intricate tradeoffs of using the surplus productivity for more income (what American society ultimately came to) vs for more leisure time (what other societies came to), it really is truly intriguing. As someone with an interest and at least a modicum of training in both history and economics myself, it is rather interesting to consider the ramifications if other choices had been made through these struggles and decisions as Cross lays them out here.
As with most any book of its kind, once Cross ends the historical illumination and switches over into more proscriptive social commentary on where believes society should go from our present position... meh, this is the typical section of "Your Mileage May Vary", and that is certainly the case here.
Still, with a bibliography hitting the 20% mark, this is a reasonably well documented examination of the topic, and the way Cross presents it really is stimulating. Very much recommended.
"Free Time" offers a thorough balance of the history of "free" leisure time and our current feelings towards this aspect of our lives. I was particularly interested in the discussion of fast consumer goods and activities vs. slow goods and activities, and why so many people choose to work more and make more money rather than to have more free time. While the reality may be more nuanced than theoretically presented in this book, it is a great starting point for readers to begin thinking more intentionally about their own relationships with work and free time. I also appreciated Cross' acknowledgement that this book asks more questions than it provides answers or solutions to this seemingly eternal human dilemma. Instead, "Free Time" is a helpful springboard from which the reader can begin to develop their own personal answers over time.
A history of the Western world’s relationship with non-work time, up until the present. Shockingly interesting—the kind of book you keep thinking about. I don’t think I would have read it had it been from an economist’s, a philosopher’s, or a psychologist’s perspective; but the thing that historians have which so often those in other disciplines do not is a much-needed *sense* of perspective. Do not expect advice on How to Live a Happier Life. This is a fairly academic text that covers many centuries of background at breakneck pace, and only in the last chapters attempts to analyze why we, in the modern age, are so often dissatisfied with how we spend our time. (The author admits that he doesn’t have any good solutions.) I have, I suppose, a much-greater-than-average understanding of daily life in the pre-industrial past—I write heavily-researched historical novels and historical fantasy. Still, I had no idea about the astonishing international political activism that led to 40-hours-a-week becoming “standard.” And the way he divided desired leisure activities across class lines was fascinating to me on a personal level. There was at least one area where I felt the author had a blind spot—his acknowledgement that poor working-class people don’t benefit from the 40-hours standard felt pretty insufficient. Still, this is a fascinating read. Whatever your current level of knowledge, your mind will be blown in some way. I’ll never think of phonographs the same way.
Free Time,' by Gary S. Cross, is an enthralling tour through the evolution of leisure activities, tracing their origins from early societies to the work-from-home age. The author deftly links together cultural, social, economic, and political factors to explain why our modern culture struggles with a lack of meaningful leisure time. Cross' examination of historical attempts to reconcile work and pleasure, from peasant festivals to internet distractions, is both smart and provocative. The book sheds light on our complex connection with time by diving into the industrial-era origins of our fixation with productivity. 'Free Time' is a must-read for anybody interested in the influences that have molded our views toward leisure, labor, and self-improvement.
I was intrigued by the premise of this book. It took me a while to make progress because the writing feels quite academic. This is an observation, not a critique. It does slow down my reading pace, if I had unlimited time with this book, it would be one that I would read a chapter, here and there and return to overtime, rather than all in one sitting. It might be a good book for an airplane. The topic is interesting, but because the writing felt a bit on the dry side, it flows better in small increments.
I find it very interesting that Cross uses COVID as a way of thinking about free time. The paradox was that as we seemed to have more, we actually ended up having less. Free Time really delves into the importance of free time. He frames it a way of exploring the impact that free time has on capitalism and our self-identities. His work further is some good social history on how money influences us, as free time leads to the development of culture and the subsequent regulation thereof.
His work breaks free of the Puritan school that free time, idle hands, are the work of the devil. For such a mundane topic, Cross makes the case that looking at society through this new social lens can give us some great insight into American identity. Along the way, he addresses some myths, such as more free time means decreased work ethic, or that less free time was something that was pushed by religion.
This book may not be for everyone, but Cross contributes to our body of understanding of the evolution of American social identity and how socio-economic changes developed
An important and necessary academic study of how the concept of work ethic has become engrained in our value system over centuries. Past and ongoing attempts to alter the status quo and thus acquire the holy grail of work-life balance have met with limited success, and in some countries, particularly the US, the amount of hours one works remains a badge of honour.
The book offers extensively detailed research of work culture in the past. But is the time-old model broken? Can it continue to serve our needs? What about the future? This book is an admirable starting point, but I would have liked to have seen more theorising about how AI might help us achieve a healthy work-life balance. There is only one mention of AI in the book and it is inevitably confined to a negative appraisal that it will only cost jobs. Perhaps a deeper exploration of how it might serve to reduce monotonous tasks to save employees’ time and thus improve efficiencies and stimulate/create exercise time?
My thanks to NYU Press and NetGalley for granting this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
"Free Time" by Gary S. Cross provides a comprehensive historical perspective on the concept of leisure. While the book did not personally captivate my interest, it offers a valuable analysis of the societal factors that have influenced our relationship with free time.
Cross explores the cultural, social, economic, and political dimensions of leisure over the past two centuries. The book describes a wide range of leisure activities, from historical festivals and pleasure gardens to modern-day pastimes such as amusement parks, movies, and internet surfing. By examining diverse examples, Cross shows a vivid picture of the multifaceted nature of leisure throughout history.
For those interested in delving into the historical roots of our modern relationship with leisure, "Free Time" provides a fine exploration. It offers information and thoughtful analysis, appealing to sociology enthusiasts.
In conclusion, "Free Time" successfully elucidates the historical context behind our current experiences of free time. Though it did not resonate with my personal taste, it holds value as a scholarly work. If you have an interest in the sociological aspects of leisure and its sociocultural impact, "Free Time" is worth exploring.
Thank you NetGalley and NYU Press for the opportunity to read this book and write a review!
This book proved to be quite intriguing, captivating my attention from the very beginning. I was particularly eager to contemplate the subject it delves into. However, in my personal assessment, it could have delved deeper into the intricate facets of free time and its diverse utilization, including the various factors that influence how we spend that time (such as responsibilities, unexpected commitments, financial constraints, and more).
Considering its potential appeal to other readers, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book as an excellent introduction to the topic. Nevertheless, for my own preferences, I found myself desiring a more comprehensive exploration of the subject matter.
A bit broad for a niche history book, I found myself drawn to the cover and the many possible takes on such a subject. While I found myself engaged, I am not sure if it met what I expected from the title until the later half. All the same, the philosophy and history married together for a nicely rewarding literary dive.
Free Time addresses two parallel issues about modern free time: how much free time we have, and what we do with it. Or put another way, why we don't seem to have enough free time, and why the way we spend it often doesn't seem very satisfying. The book takes a historical perspective -- starting from pre-industrial times, through today. This is very US-centric, with some comparisons to Europe.
There are many books out there already on the topics of work-life balance, and but this is the first book I've read that discusses this topic from a historical perspective. It is pretty eye-opening to realize that the way we think about and spend free time these days was shaped over many decades as American capitalism, politics, society, and culture has evolved. If you can stomach the dry and academic tone of this book, the historical perspective shows that there are alternatives to the current culture of work and free time that dominates in the US -- full-time work 40 hrs/week, limited paid vacation for those that are lucky to have any, a strong bias towards child-centric activities for families, fast consumer capitalism providing easy entertainment on demand thanks to tech like smartphones and Netflix, and superficial zombie relationships that are typical with social media.
Two key ideas will stick with me, based on how Cross categorizes free time activities in two ways.
The first way is mostly based on social class: the upper ("genteel") class promotes high culture, art, certain types of music, certain types of sports; the middle class seems to devote most of its free time towards insular religious or family and child-oriented activities; and lower classes spend more of their time in the modern day version of the carnival -- bars, amusement parks, movies, spectator sports, etc. Historically, how people spend their free time has been strongly influenced by the social classes, their interactions and tensions.
The second way of categorizing free time activities is through fast goods vs slow goods. Fast goods are mass produced, consumable experiences that are easily accessible, requiring less training and preparation, and have large marketing efforts behind them. For example, movies, video games, spectator sports, and online shopping. Slow goods are those that are taken in at a slower pace, often requiring less upfront cost, probably considered more boring by most, and require more training, skill, and time for the participant. These are things like developing a hobby, spending time in nature, playing a musical instrument, or even reading this book.
The end of the book veers into the philosophical -- what should free time look like? This is where it gets less historical and more opinionated. The author seems to argue for fighting the fast consumer culture of free time with more slow activities that don't directly feed capitalism's goal of infinite growth. I'm still on the fence about whether slow is always better than fast. And maybe it doesn't actually matter that much because realistically, I'll always take part in both. Plus, a lot of my choices about free time aren't only up to me, but also depend on forces outside of me. It's enough for now to be more mindful about free time -- what it's like now, what it was like in the past, and wondering how it might be different in the future.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this book!