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Books in brief

Not Working: Why We Have to Stop

by Josh Cohen (Granta, £14.99)

We live in a culture where activity is imperative. Work and distraction are the rule and doing nothing is frowned upon—even if it’s secretly what we would all like to do. In his new book Not Working, the academic and psychoanalyst Josh Cohen recommends that we all stop.

Inactivity, Cohen says, can be a fertile ground for both creativity and fulfilment. Citing Freud rather than Marx, this book is a welcome supplement to the growing literature on modern work.

Cohen invites us to attend to our inner inertia by presenting four inertial types: the burnout, the slob, the daydreamer and the slacker. Each has, for whatever reason, “stopped working, or at least working blindly” and points us to possibilities for living differently. Cohen notes that his “types” offer not so much a neat instruction manual for “how we should live” as prompt worthwhile questions about “how we do live.”

He offers biographical sketches of figures roughly matched to each of his four types: Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, Emily Dickinson and David Foster Wallace. None of these are lives you might want to replicate yourself, but, as Cohen sees it, each “channelled feelings of indifference, slothful indulgence, withdrawal and boredom into remarkable cultural achievements.” They hold lessons on how inactivity can work.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: Gaby Hinsliff explains why all sides of the Brexit debate feel like they’re losing. She says that the Brexit war has raged on for two and half years and disfigured British politics in the process, leaving Remainers in mourning and Leavers crying betrayal. Elsewhere in the issue: James Ball, Martin Moore and Barbara Speed examine how we should be less worried about the tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google and more worried about the data they hold about us. Ball argues that breaking up these huge companies isn’t the answer; Moore asks what would happens when a tech giant wants to run a smart city, and Speed looks at the increasing trend of tracking everything in our daily lives from the amount of water we drink to how many notifications we receive to our smartphone. Also, Rachel Sylvester profiles Sajid Javid, the Cabinet minister positioning himself for the top job.