According to the Leisure Studies Department at the University of Iowa, true leisure is "that place in which we realize our humanity." If that's true, argues Brigid Schulte, then we're doing dangerously little realizing of our humanity. In Overwhelmed, Schulte, a staff writer for The Washington Post, asks: Are our brains, our partners, our culture, and our bosses making it impossible for us to experience anything but "contaminated time."
Schulte first asked this question in a 2010 feature for The Washington Post Magazine: "How did researchers compile this statistic that said we were rolling in leisure—over four hours a day? Did any of us feel that we actually had downtime? Was there anything useful in their research—anything we could do?"
A New York Times bestseller, Overwhelmed is a map of the stresses that have ripped our leisure to shreds, and a look at how to put the pieces back together. Schulte speaks to neuroscientists, sociologists, and hundreds of working parents to tease out the factors contributing to our collective sense of being overwhelmed, seeking insights, answers, and inspiration. She investigates progressive offices trying to invent a new kind of workplace; she travels across Europe to get a sense of how other countries accommodate working parents; she finds younger couples who claim to have figured out an ideal division of chores, childcare, and meaningful paid work. Overwhelmed is the story of what she found out.
The charge to the reviewers was not to make a case for a book, but rather to analyze the character and extent of its influence. Because these works are already recognized as milestones in their fields, and because the reviewers are prominent figures who themselves often played central roles in the dramas surrounding these titles, the reviews are as noteworthy for their critical edge as for their celebration of the books' contributions. The result is a thought-provoking volume that engages many of the key intellectual issues of our time.
This book is broken down into six chapters. Chapter one discusses how, when promoting "family values" and talking about "family as the basic unit of American society," social commentators, politicians, and social scientists alike typically ignore extended kin ties and focus only on the nuclear family. Chapters two and three show that the focus on marriage and the nuclear family is a narrow view that ignores the familial practices and experiences of many Americans – particularly those of women who do much of the work of maintaining kin ties and racial/ethnic minorities for whom extended kin are centrally important. Chapter four focuses on class and economic inequality and explores how an emphasis on the nuclear family may actually promulgate a vision of family life that dismisses the very social resources and community ties that are critical to the survival strategies of those in need. In chapter five, the authors argue that marriage actually detracts from social integration and ties to broader communities. Finally, in chapter six, the authors suggest that the focus on marriage and the nuclear family and the inattention to the extended family distort and reduce the power of social policy in the United States.