Review of How to Do Nothing

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  • Engaging
  • Inspiring


Visual artist and Stanford University lecturer Jenny Odell offers a disarmingly simple argument for how to do less and enjoy your life more. Odell argues against online addiction, and encourages a shift in attention toward the people, animals, plants and environments that surround you. She offers charming and wise tales from her experiences as an artist and illuminates the negative social impact of the attention economy on your consciousness and relationships. Odell provides a delightful alternative for all those who find the constant push to do more exhausting.

About the Author

Jenny Odell is an artist and teacher at Stanford University. She shows her work internationally, and has held artist residencies at Facebook, the Internet Archive and the San Francisco Planning Department.


“The usefulness of the useless” is the beginning of how to do nothing.

Odell suggests that one way to resist today’s constant call to action or improvement is to realize that uselessness can be a survival technique. For example, she says, the East Bay Hills of San Francisco had old-growth redwood trees that became fodder for loggers. One warped, 93-foot tree was too small and twisted to be valuable. The author attributes its survival to being useless to loggers.

Odell harkens back to Zhuang Zhou, a fourth-century Chinese philosopher, who espoused the usefulness of the useless to highlight the irrationality of society. Someone who was good and humble, he held, would appear backward in a world that required people to seek fame and ambition. Seeking productivity is often an excuse for devastating the environment, including the self.

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