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Free TimeFree Time

The Forgotten American Dream

Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt

Narrated by Donald H. Beckwith

Available from Audible

Book published by Temple University Press

A magisterial overview of the history of the fight for leisure in the United States.

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.


“Hunnicutt offers a provocative and valuable history of a neglected idea. ”

Publishers Weekly

“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.”


“[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.”

American Historical Review

Free Time's strength is in its eclectic exposition of American ideas about the value and necessity of free time..... thought-provoking.”

The Journal of American History

“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.”

Labor Studies

“Hunnicutt’s arguments resonate.... I recommend this book highly to those looking for a fresh perspective on the longstanding issue of the work–leisure tradeoff.... Hunnicutt’s thorough research and meticulous sampling of quotations serve as undeniable evidence that there once was a vision of Higher Progress that even the most hardcore skeptic can’t deny and that there could be one again. The book serves as a timely eye opener for any American worker to conduct a self-evaluation of the question 'Am I living to work, or working to live?'”

Monthly Labor Review

“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.”

The Journal of Economic History

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