Reviews for Saving Time

by Jenny Odell

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Odell’s follow-up to her 2019 hit, How To Do Nothing. In this rigorous, wide-ranging examination of time, the author touches on the pandemic, the climate crisis, and many other pertinent topics. Odell begins by introducing the concept of “fungible time, which “is consistent and can be endlessly subdivided. Measuring fungible time is like envisioning standardized containers that can potentially be filled with work.” The author then segues into a section on the clash between the European colonial clock hour and the understanding of time held by “task-oriented” Indigenous communities that organize their activities based on natural phenomena, such as “the flowering or fruiting of a certain plant.” Odell works assiduously to explain how our culture arrived at the commonly held belief that “time is money,” and she makes her way through an impressive array of historical documents, including the writings of Frederick Winslow Taylor, who worked on “the systematic management of other people’s time,” and ledgers recording slave labor hours in the West Indies. Ultimately, writes the author, “the origins of the clock, calendar, and spreadsheet are inseparable from the history of extraction, whether of resources from the earth or of labor time from people.” In another chapter, Odell asks what happens when this obsession with increased efficiency is turned toward the self, a point she illustrates with an entertaining discussion of “productivity bros” and their “unhealthy fixation on morning routines.” The author also considers leisure time (including its relationship to social media) and her personal experience of the pandemic, when the world experienced an “estrangement from common forms of marking time.” Odell found comfort in watching a live webcam of a nesting eagle in Iowa. This book, featuring denser prose and more academic subject matter, is not as approachable as How To Do Nothing, but it will reward readers who pay close attention. An erudite investigation of our culture’s understanding of time. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.