How To Be Idle!! Is Laziness Misunderstood?

How to be Idle, by Tom Hodgkinson – as usual, not a book I set out looking for, I came across it by chance and couldn’t ignore the unlikely title. Next thing you know, I’m psychoanalysing the whole concept of laziness – or should I say ‘the philosophy of inaction”.

A book for your humour section?

Despite obvious first impressions, it isn’t comedy, humourous – yes, but not intentionally, in fact it’s more of a sociological critique disguised with sarcastic humour.

“Sleep is a powerful seducer, hence the terrifying machinery we have developed to fight it. I mean the alarm clock” ⏰

“At 10am the idler is probably awake, possibly staring at the ceiling, and certainly in no hurry to get vertical………By lying in bed we are elevating ourselves above the level of a machine. Robots do not ponder, they just get on with it”

Jokes aside, one of the following or something similar might be a truer title for this book:

  • The scam of 9-5 thinking
  • Industrialisation, the Thief of a Quality Life?
  • How Idleness Helps the Rich Get Richer
  • The Destruction of Cosy Pub Culture and other Anti-Idler Movements
  • Lazy? You’ve Got Me All Wrong!
  • The Snobbery of Busyness

What’s it all about?

Is it a step by step guide on how to be idle?

Kind of, but not before re-assessing what it means to be idle with fresh perspectives across various aspects of life – around the clock.

Today’s wellness talk of ‘being in the moment’, rather than being primarily focused on ‘doing’ or being seen to be ‘doing’ is quite complementary to Hodgkinson’s philosophies on idleness.

Hodgkinson gives us a ream of life hacks, from an idlers perspective, e.g:


How to walk well πŸ€” Very much the creative mind of a writer at play here….love it!! The lens we choose through which to view life, will always shape the way we experience it. πŸ”­

Fashion, style and a welcoming home…..

Idleness aside, I do agree. The homes that seem to feel the ‘homeliest’ tend to be the least pretentious and are filled with quirks that reflect the host owner’s personality and lifestyle 🏑


Nobody wants to be labelled an idler, surely!

Hodgkinson unpicks some interesting background that might make you question a lot of common notions, arguable myths about idleness and what it means to be lazy.

In today’s modern world, idleness is largely demonised, synonymous with being lazy and good for nothing, ‘bone idle’, ‘work-shy’ are labels feared by most…..presumably, or is this changing?

β€œIdleness is sweet, and its consequences are cruel.” – John Quincy Adams

β€œThe devil finds work for idle hands.” – Henry David Thoreau

β€œAn idle mind is soon lost.”

β€œIdle hands are the devil’s playthings.” – Benjamin Franklin

Quotes source

I think we can always find truth in these quotes, but are they conclusive?

To read or not to read?

Give the book a chance, keep an open mind.

You’ll probably roll your eyes at some of Hodgkinson’s philosophies but the overriding themes in his book are definitely worth a ponder.

I don’t see either extreme being healthy, but the scales are probably tipped too heavily one way or the other for many. Workaholic, overworked vs bone idle, work shy…or maybe that’s a bit too simplistic, since there are always layers of reasons and variables at play.

Any notion or ideology can be manipulated to the advantage of some over others, perhaps idleness is no exception. Hodgkinson boils much of it down to capitalism and ruling classes capitalising on the ‘created’ psychology around idleness, to keep the proletariat/workers dutifully working to very little end and low wages.

In a nutshell, Hodgkinson holds the view that idleness has become a tool of ideological control, particularly since the beginning of the industrial age.

“Idleness as a waste of time is a damaging notion put about by its spiritually vacant enemies. The fact that idling can be enormously productive is repressed. Musicians are characterised as slackers, writers as selfish ingrates; artists as dangerous.”

Too much ‘thinking’ time….πŸ€”

Affluenza, the virus of a society obsessed with status and consumerism (a book by Oliver James which I reviewed not to long ago) also compliments ‘How To Be Idle’ quite nicely, I’d say. The two work in tangent – both pointing to roots that are fixed in the pursuit of wealth and materialism, at the expense of happiness, contentedness, a healthy and balanced life.

Q&AΒ πŸ“

At the end of the book, Hodgkinson recounts some questions/points he received from readers and gives responses from his own viewpoint e.g:

  • I’d like to be more idle but I feel guilty when not working
  • There isn’t much in the book about how to deal with being a parent whilst being an idler
  • The lavatory is where I do my idling nowadays
  • Marx was king of the slackers

Again, I very much doubt you’ll agree with everything Hodgkinson has to say in this book but I think you’ll be hard pressed not to be amused it.

More snippets

Anyway, we’ll leave it there, hopefully this helped you glean a sense of whether or not you might want to read this one, or perhaps it just got you thinking about idleness and laziness a bit differently!!


30 thoughts on “How To Be Idle!! Is Laziness Misunderstood?

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  3. debscarey

    There does seem to be a cult of busyness, it’s somewhat worrying. I recall when newly re-singled in my fifties that my therapist asked why I’d taken up new activities. She was concerned that I was filling my time out of a fear of being alone. I was able to reassure her that they were things I’d always wanted to do but never had the time because of fitting two people’s disparate interests into one life. I do enjoy a good idle – it’s tremendously good for a body πŸ˜€

  4. annabelharz

    Great review! The book sounds fascinating!

    The bit about talking vs doing reminds me of a quote (which has become somewhat of a mantra for me) from Australian author John Marsden’s “Tomorrow” series (Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first one). Setting: invasion in Australia, eventuating in war. Protagonists: teenage kids camping in the bush, who avoided being rounded up. They move about stealthily, trying to evade the enemy. Quote: There is no time left in reconnaissance. Meaning: plan, baby, plan: don’t rush in and do things half-cocked (and as my mantra: allow things to take their time to settle into the ideal way of being).

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