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In the first book to argue for the benefits of boredom, Peter Toohey dispels the myth that it's simply a childish emotion or an existential malaise like Jean-Paul Sartre's nausea. He shows how boredom is, in fact, one of our most common and constructive emotions and is an essential part of the human experience. This informative and entertaining investigation of boredom—what In the first book to argue for the benefits of boredom, Peter Toohey dispels the myth that it's simply a childish emotion or an existential malaise like Jean-Paul Sartre's nausea. He shows how boredom is, in fact, one of our most common and constructive emotions and is an essential part of the human experience. This informative and entertaining investigation of boredom—what it is and what it isn't, its uses and its dangers—spans more than 3,000 years of history and takes readers through fascinating neurological and psychological theories of emotion, as well as recent scientific investigations, to illustrate its role in our lives. There are Australian aboriginals and bored Romans, Jeffrey Archer and caged cockatoos, Camus and the early Christians, Dürer and Degas. Toohey also explores the important role that boredom plays in popular and highbrow culture and how over the centuries it has proven to be a stimulus for art and literature. Toohey shows that boredom is a universal emotion experienced by humans throughout history and he explains its place, and value, in today's world. Boredom: A Lively History is vital reading for anyone interested in what goes on when supposedly nothing happens.


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In the first book to argue for the benefits of boredom, Peter Toohey dispels the myth that it's simply a childish emotion or an existential malaise like Jean-Paul Sartre's nausea. He shows how boredom is, in fact, one of our most common and constructive emotions and is an essential part of the human experience. This informative and entertaining investigation of boredom—what In the first book to argue for the benefits of boredom, Peter Toohey dispels the myth that it's simply a childish emotion or an existential malaise like Jean-Paul Sartre's nausea. He shows how boredom is, in fact, one of our most common and constructive emotions and is an essential part of the human experience. This informative and entertaining investigation of boredom—what it is and what it isn't, its uses and its dangers—spans more than 3,000 years of history and takes readers through fascinating neurological and psychological theories of emotion, as well as recent scientific investigations, to illustrate its role in our lives. There are Australian aboriginals and bored Romans, Jeffrey Archer and caged cockatoos, Camus and the early Christians, Dürer and Degas. Toohey also explores the important role that boredom plays in popular and highbrow culture and how over the centuries it has proven to be a stimulus for art and literature. Toohey shows that boredom is a universal emotion experienced by humans throughout history and he explains its place, and value, in today's world. Boredom: A Lively History is vital reading for anyone interested in what goes on when supposedly nothing happens.

30 review for Boredom: A Lively History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    About as good as a book on boredom from an academic press can be. Toohey breaks down boredom into two styles: simple boredom (repetitive tasks, long airplane rides, etc.) and existential boredom (boredom with life bordering on depression). I wish Toohey had delved a little more into the biological/evolutionary advantages of boredom beyond its link with disgust and how it can disincentivize certain social behaviors. Chapter 4 was, for lack of a better word, boring. Not bad given the subject matter About as good as a book on boredom from an academic press can be. Toohey breaks down boredom into two styles: simple boredom (repetitive tasks, long airplane rides, etc.) and existential boredom (boredom with life bordering on depression). I wish Toohey had delved a little more into the biological/evolutionary advantages of boredom beyond its link with disgust and how it can disincentivize certain social behaviors. Chapter 4 was, for lack of a better word, boring. Not bad given the subject matter.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    The concept of this book is interesting. Toohey examines, what he terms, "simple boredom" (the emotional effect of being involved in repetitive, uninspiring tasks or being confined to a space for too long), as opposed to the much-studied/discussed "existential boredom" (why am I here? what is my purpose?). He argues that too much time, literature, philosophy, and art has been spent on existential boredom because it appears, on the surface, to be more "intellectual," while simple boredom is often The concept of this book is interesting. Toohey examines, what he terms, "simple boredom" (the emotional effect of being involved in repetitive, uninspiring tasks or being confined to a space for too long), as opposed to the much-studied/discussed "existential boredom" (why am I here? what is my purpose?). He argues that too much time, literature, philosophy, and art has been spent on existential boredom because it appears, on the surface, to be more "intellectual," while simple boredom is often overlooked as childish and immature. However, through his multidisciplinary research, including psychology, physiology, literature, philosophy, and art (particularly painting), he finds that simple boredom is really the crux of the emotional state of boredom, and that existential boredom is simply an over-intellectualized concept - not an emotion - that has its roots in simple boredom. He also gives simple boredom a biological/evolutionary role. In the same way that humans have developed a feeling of disgust as a way of self-regulating (i.e. disgust lets us know when we are too full or too drunk or when we come in contact with something that is poisonous or deadly), humans use boredom as a cautionary mechanism for social situations that may be "hazardous" to us (maybe not hazardous in a deadly way, but hazardous to our mental health). In a way, boredom lets us know our threshold for certain social situations. Furthermore, he argues that anger is the emotion that follow quickly on the heels of boredom, so when we are becoming bored, it is our body's way of letting us know that anger and rage are approaching. It's a pretty interesting idea even if you don't buy into it in full. However, the book itself ran out of information quickly and became extremely repetitive after the first chapter. It may have actually been better as a chapter or two in a larger book about the spectrum of human emotions, ranging from boredom to, what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls, "flow" (or the act of being fully engaged in a task or "in the zone" as some people say). Overall, an interesting concept, but not a very good 200-page book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Helen Cortezano

    If there is a state that we probably don't want to be in, it's boredom. It's the feeling of watching the paint dry or watching the tap drip. It can kill your time or kill you. But probably what most of us don't know is that boredom can actually be a good thing. In this book, the author pointed out that boredom is simply an adaptive emotion closely related to disgust. When we see or smell rotting food, we feel disgusted, which stops us from eating this food as it will most likely be toxic to our If there is a state that we probably don't want to be in, it's boredom. It's the feeling of watching the paint dry or watching the tap drip. It can kill your time or kill you. But probably what most of us don't know is that boredom can actually be a good thing. In this book, the author pointed out that boredom is simply an adaptive emotion closely related to disgust. When we see or smell rotting food, we feel disgusted, which stops us from eating this food as it will most likely be toxic to our health. In the same way, boredom exists to provide an early warning signal that certain social situations may be dangerous to our well-being, be it a boring person or our own boring lifestyle. It's a sign that something must be changed or else worse things will follow. Hence, it's no surprise that boredom also breeds creativity as it allows you to question the tired, same-old, accepted norm of today's society and search for change. The author also highlighted the connection between time and boredom. Apparently, our perception of time changes when we are bored. In this case, time moves slower. But can you be bored if you have no sense of past time? That is, no clocks, calendars, lists, and linear form of memory like the Aboriginal Australians before colonisation. There are a few more interesting ideas that the author discussed, most importantly the concepts of simple and existential boredom. However, I just wish he could have employed a livelier, less formal approach in writing rather than being a bit on the academic side (which he did a fair amount of time when referencing books and artworks on the subject matter). Other historians seem to be able to do that. And, after all, he had 'a lively history' right on the cover.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chee Wooi

    On the overall, the book is okay if you are looking for a light read, but sorely lacking if you are trying to understand boredom in more detail. The book doesn't have much in terms of insights and information. There are 6 chapters; out of which, the first 5 have their main points summarized in about a page each. The rest of each chapter are examples, and mostly not very good ones at that. Chapter 6, which discusses how to overcome boredom, is the only chapter of substantial content. Also, there i On the overall, the book is okay if you are looking for a light read, but sorely lacking if you are trying to understand boredom in more detail. The book doesn't have much in terms of insights and information. There are 6 chapters; out of which, the first 5 have their main points summarized in about a page each. The rest of each chapter are examples, and mostly not very good ones at that. Chapter 6, which discusses how to overcome boredom, is the only chapter of substantial content. Also, there is not much from a neuroscience perspective - only one study is ever mentioned. The examples are frequently drawn from fiction, which I don't believe is a good way to make a point. Fictional characters are created primarily for entertainment. While made to be believable, their thoughts and actions do not necessarily reflect real people closely. The other examples are drawn from art, which rapidly becomes more of a "boredom art" appreciation course than a treatise on boredom. The only good examples in the book are drawn from real people who were incarcerated and what these people wrote about their experience with boredom.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lynette Monteiro

    Despite the title, the only thing lively in this book is the free-floating logic and untethered definitions of boredom. Toohey seemed to have difficulty honoring his own definitions and opportunistically interpreted various art, fictional and real characters, and sundry quotes to fit his theory. Early promises to investigate the differences between existential and situational boredom (poorly defined as the latter was) were sloughed off in favor of attempts to be humorous. If Yale Publications co Despite the title, the only thing lively in this book is the free-floating logic and untethered definitions of boredom. Toohey seemed to have difficulty honoring his own definitions and opportunistically interpreted various art, fictional and real characters, and sundry quotes to fit his theory. Early promises to investigate the differences between existential and situational boredom (poorly defined as the latter was) were sloughed off in favor of attempts to be humorous. If Yale Publications commissioned this book-as Toohey claims-someone had more time than inspiration on their hands that day.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dogan Kokdemir

    I've read the Turkish version of this book. The first three chapters were very good and thought provoking. But the later chapters were somewhat boring, repetitive anf full of unnecessary details. There are many research and source on existential boredom but in the book this part is not strong enough. However, this is one of the best book to enter the world of "boredom". At least, it directs you where to start reading. I've read the Turkish version of this book. The first three chapters were very good and thought provoking. But the later chapters were somewhat boring, repetitive anf full of unnecessary details. There are many research and source on existential boredom but in the book this part is not strong enough. However, this is one of the best book to enter the world of "boredom". At least, it directs you where to start reading.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sokcheng

    I think this book is better called Boredom: A Lively Western History. I admittedly screamed out of frustrated boredom at many of the early chapters. The irony of experiencing acute boredom from this book on boredom did not escape me. I have to say, no offense to the author, he obviously is a competent writer, able to make the reading plesant and he obviously did his research. it's just his research was not what I expected to find. I wanted the scientific and culturally relevant information regar I think this book is better called Boredom: A Lively Western History. I admittedly screamed out of frustrated boredom at many of the early chapters. The irony of experiencing acute boredom from this book on boredom did not escape me. I have to say, no offense to the author, he obviously is a competent writer, able to make the reading plesant and he obviously did his research. it's just his research was not what I expected to find. I wanted the scientific and culturally relevant information regarding boredom and most importantly, how we, modern people, should approach boredom in this day and age. Instead, i got pages after pages of literary criticism and art lessons on what bored people looked like. The audacity to use only mostly western references as a total history of humankind's thoughts on boredom also threw me off. I'm pretty sure the East has said as much about the subject. But then again, I digress. Only the last few chapters gave relevant information regarding boredom in the (near) modern age and scientific understandings, as well as some form of "cure" for boredom for which I am grateful. All in all, good writing ability, but really boring contemplation on the west's history of boredom.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Greta

    An interesting look at various types of boredom and its overall history. Existential boredom seems to be a bigger problem today than ever before, that's for sure! An interesting look at various types of boredom and its overall history. Existential boredom seems to be a bigger problem today than ever before, that's for sure!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ali El Rez

    I am happy to find out that what I suffer from has a fancy name: existential boredom.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sonia Jarmula

    Good food for thought in a time where every day is Groundhog Day.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ariadna73

    Here is my comment in my Spanish Blog: http://lunairereadings.blogspot.com/2... This is a book that tries to describe the emotion of boredom. It goes far back in the past and the arts and shows different depictions of it in literature; painting and other arts. I was trying to figure out what boredom is; because to me it is yet a mystery. I don't understand what it is or why it is so bad. The book succeeds on covering every aspect of how it is depicted through history; but it doesn't quite describ Here is my comment in my Spanish Blog: http://lunairereadings.blogspot.com/2... This is a book that tries to describe the emotion of boredom. It goes far back in the past and the arts and shows different depictions of it in literature; painting and other arts. I was trying to figure out what boredom is; because to me it is yet a mystery. I don't understand what it is or why it is so bad. The book succeeds on covering every aspect of how it is depicted through history; but it doesn't quite describe it at all. At the end of the day; I think that boredom is just a subjective matter that is not possible to describe or even talk about; and this book seems to be a proof of that.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Let me start by saying that no Sankey child ever whined, "I'm bored" twice. Either you were found something unpleasant to do, or got the look and "if something is boring, it must be because you aren't very interesting yourself." So I was amused by Toohey's social history of boredom--from neurological studies of ADD/ADHD and inattention, representations in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Hedda Gabler, cabin fever in the context of The Shining, animals who pull out their feathers in boredom, medieval mo Let me start by saying that no Sankey child ever whined, "I'm bored" twice. Either you were found something unpleasant to do, or got the look and "if something is boring, it must be because you aren't very interesting yourself." So I was amused by Toohey's social history of boredom--from neurological studies of ADD/ADHD and inattention, representations in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Hedda Gabler, cabin fever in the context of The Shining, animals who pull out their feathers in boredom, medieval monks and the "demons of noonday," time passing in jail, indigenous people and the lack of words for "boredom," and Durer's bored-looking angels.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alistair

    it would be easy to say that this was boring but it was interesting if not thrilling he distinguishes between situational boredom as in being in an office meeting or a wet winter sunday afternoon sort of boredom and existential boredom which is more like longterm depression the writer being a professor of classics there are rather a lot of classical references . once you get the drift it becomes a litle repetitive but on the whole it is a not too pop philosophy and thought provoking read .

  14. 4 out of 5

    The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic

    TWO MILLIGRAMS OF The Big B, the doctor will say not so long from now after you have come in for relief from the Theme Park Adventure that is your life. It will cure what ails your restless iPodded, iPadded, and Kindled existence. Boredom, which begins, as Walter Benjamin put it, when “we don’t know what we’re waiting for,” is now a solution, not a problem. Read more... TWO MILLIGRAMS OF The Big B, the doctor will say not so long from now after you have come in for relief from the Theme Park Adventure that is your life. It will cure what ails your restless iPodded, iPadded, and Kindled existence. Boredom, which begins, as Walter Benjamin put it, when “we don’t know what we’re waiting for,” is now a solution, not a problem. Read more...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Damon Young

    Toohey makes boredom sexy. His crisp, conversational prose is untainted by jargon or pretence. His arguments display impressive erudition: history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and aesthetics all get a guernsey. If good writing requires authorial boredom, Toohey was undoubtedly tortured by tedium while writing this sharp, humane and funny book. Read the full review here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/... Toohey makes boredom sexy. His crisp, conversational prose is untainted by jargon or pretence. His arguments display impressive erudition: history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and aesthetics all get a guernsey. If good writing requires authorial boredom, Toohey was undoubtedly tortured by tedium while writing this sharp, humane and funny book. Read the full review here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Burton

    A bit scattershot. Uses quotes from others sometimes pointlessly. The quote adds nothing to the point he is making. Also existential boredom seems to be defined as simply clinical depression--if so why is this book not called clinical depression? Still, this is a smart reader-writer grazing, and I'm picking up interesting leads from his munching. A bit scattershot. Uses quotes from others sometimes pointlessly. The quote adds nothing to the point he is making. Also existential boredom seems to be defined as simply clinical depression--if so why is this book not called clinical depression? Still, this is a smart reader-writer grazing, and I'm picking up interesting leads from his munching.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Kieffer

    There were a few moments while reading this book where I found myself suffering from the very subject matter. However, over all the work explores boredom thoroughly and and interestingly. The writing is clever, humorous at times and highly accessible. The later part of the book explored the psychological, neurological, and psychiatric aspects of boredom to which I found the most enjoyable.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris Leuchtenburg

    An intriguing title can get a book published, but an extended discourse on the difference between simple boredom and existential enui would require a sharper intellect to make it interesting. Unfortunately, this book is limited to scintillating insights such as "What does this say about the frequency of chronic boredom? Nothing definitely." An intriguing title can get a book published, but an extended discourse on the difference between simple boredom and existential enui would require a sharper intellect to make it interesting. Unfortunately, this book is limited to scintillating insights such as "What does this say about the frequency of chronic boredom? Nothing definitely."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    I couldn't finish this book, it was too boring! I was seriously excited to read this book, but found myself slogging through it like a dread pirate in a fire swamp. The authors style was to disengaging to maintain my attention. Sadly he jokes about this early on, minus the part where it isn't a joke. If someone else made it farther in the book, let me know if there was something worth while. I couldn't finish this book, it was too boring! I was seriously excited to read this book, but found myself slogging through it like a dread pirate in a fire swamp. The authors style was to disengaging to maintain my attention. Sadly he jokes about this early on, minus the part where it isn't a joke. If someone else made it farther in the book, let me know if there was something worth while.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    A great topic to distinguish between simple, common instances of boredom and perhaps more complex, existential boredom, but poorly executed with few profound insights. Filled with armchair interpretations of art, personal anecdotes of friends suffering from depression, unclear definitions of his subject matter, etc., I was very disappointed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Ironically, this was a thoroughly interesting read which examined the human experience of boredom from historical, psychological, practical and philosophical perspectives. Toohey alludes to various pieces of literature, philosophy and art to examine the role boredom has played in the human narrative. I don't think I'll ever view boredom in the same way. Ironically, this was a thoroughly interesting read which examined the human experience of boredom from historical, psychological, practical and philosophical perspectives. Toohey alludes to various pieces of literature, philosophy and art to examine the role boredom has played in the human narrative. I don't think I'll ever view boredom in the same way.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This book wasn't bad per say but it's not exactly what I signed up for if you know what I mean. I expected the history of boredom and that topic was sort of covered in the second to last chapter but certainly not for the whole book. History was not the focus of this book...perhaps neuroscience or philosophy but not history. There were a lot of stretchy intuitive leaps all over the place too. This book wasn't bad per say but it's not exactly what I signed up for if you know what I mean. I expected the history of boredom and that topic was sort of covered in the second to last chapter but certainly not for the whole book. History was not the focus of this book...perhaps neuroscience or philosophy but not history. There were a lot of stretchy intuitive leaps all over the place too.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    An interesting book, which i guess it had to be in order to overcome the title. The principle issue was the distinction between existential boredom and common boredom. I would have liked more discussion the link with depression which he skirted but did not explain in any detail

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy Turner

    So, why did I think it would be entertaining to read a book about boredom? How much can you say without getting boring? I did not read this whole book, but enough not to feel guilty about reviewing it and adding it to my books.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jer McS

    An academic making the leap to popular writing in this case illustrates the dangers of writing for a paying audience instead of lecturing to a captive audience that needs a passing grade to get through the course... Neither lively nor engaging.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric Kalnins

    I made the mistake of reading some of the reviews of Boredom on Goodreads and getting a generally poor impression. I am joyously pleased to say I really enjoyed this thought provoking book and was far from bored with boredom. Highly recommended.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    Not particularly lively or educational. Sophomoric I think is the word I am looking for here. Unfortunately, this came highly recommended. Another reminder of how I need to stop listening to other people's opinions about books. *Very* few people are good at judging quality in my experience. Not particularly lively or educational. Sophomoric I think is the word I am looking for here. Unfortunately, this came highly recommended. Another reminder of how I need to stop listening to other people's opinions about books. *Very* few people are good at judging quality in my experience.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Beaulieu

    I wouldn't go so far as lively ... maybe a moderately amusing history that peters out the last chapter ... but still an interesting read. I wouldn't go so far as lively ... maybe a moderately amusing history that peters out the last chapter ... but still an interesting read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Richard Anderson

    Some good stuff. Well-written but repetitive .

  30. 4 out of 5

    LOL_BOOKS

    I JUST READ A RLY BAD BOOK AND I'M STILL ANGY ABOUT IT. AT LEAST I GET TO RIP IT APART IN MY PAPER! :D? I JUST READ A RLY BAD BOOK AND I'M STILL ANGY ABOUT IT. AT LEAST I GET TO RIP IT APART IN MY PAPER! :D?

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