The Idler (1993)

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John Stephenson (talk) 14:04, 3 March 2021 (UTC)
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This article is about the British magazine. For other uses of the term The Idler, please see The Idler (disambiguation).
(CC) Photo: Brian Gratwicke
The humble garden snail (Cornu aspersum) is the magazine's mascot.

The Idler is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to its ethos of 'idling'. Founded in 1993 by Tom Hodgkinson and Gavin Pretor-Pinney, the publication's intention is to return dignity to the art of 'loafing', i.e. to make idling something to aspire to rather than reject.[1]

The magazine combines the aesthetics of 1990s slacker culture and pre-industrial revolution idealism. The title comes from a series of essays by Samuel Johnson, published in 1758–59.


On the practice of idling, Tom Hodgkinson writes:

A characteristic of the idler's work is that it looks suspiciously like play. This, again, makes the non-idler feel uncomfortable. Victims of the Protestant work ethic would like all work to be unpleasant. They feel that work is a curse, that we must suffer on this earth to earn our place in the next. The idler, on the other hand, sees no reason not to use his brain to organise a life for himself where his play is his work, and so attempt to create his own little paradise in the here and now.[2]


The Idler was launched in 1993 when its editor, Tom Hodgkinson, was 25. The title came from a series of essays by Samuel Johnson. In it, Johnson wrote on such subjects as sleep and sloth and said: "Every man is, or hopes to be, an idler." The new Idler took this 18th-century sensibility and combined it with the radical philosophies of the 1990s. Issue One featured a profile of Dr Johnson and an interview with psychonaut Terence McKenna.[3]

The Idler has since enjoyed a number of incarnations. In the nineties it was published by the Guardian newspaper, then by Ebury publishing. Tom published the Idler as an annual collection of essays until 2014, then relaunched the magazine in 2016. The magazine is now published bi-monthly.

Spin-offs and other media

Tom Hodgkinson has written numerous books which develop this attitude to life. The first, How to Be Idle, has been published in 20 countries and has so far become a best-seller in the UK, Italy and Germany.[4] His second book How to Be Free takes an anarchic approach to the everyday barriers that come between us and our dreams. The third is an alternative parenting manual, The Idle Parent, which argues that children should be left largely to their own devices.[5] The fourth, Brave Old World considers the virtues of the self-sufficient, rural lifestyle.

Title Year Pages Author
How to be Idle 2007 286 Tom Hodgkinson
How to be Free 2008 352 Tom Hodgkinson
The Book of Idle Pleasures 2008 224 Tom Hodgkinson and Dan Kieran
The Idle Parent 2009 260 Tom Hodgkinson
Brave Old World 2011 275 Tom Hodgkinson

The Crap series of humour books is a direct spin-off from an Idler column and edited by Dan Kieran:

  • Crap Jobs is a series of books chronicling the worst of Idler-readers' forays into employment.
  • Crap Towns exposes some of the worst places to live in Great Britain. Crap Towns caught the public imagination but drew fire from both local councils and local media in those areas concerned.[6]
  • Crap Holidays is an exploration of Samuel Johnson's maxim that the idler allows events and goods to come to him rather than expend energy and money travelling to disenchanting locations.

The Idler includes archived magazine content and regular updates from the editor.[7]


The Idler Academy, founded at a festival in 2010, is the Idler’s educational offshoot. It is a school which offers online and real-world courses in the classical liberal arts and practical skills. The Idler Academy teaches philosophy, astronomy, calligraphy, music, business skills, English grammar, ukulele, public speaking, singing, drawing, self-defence and other subjects.

Bad Grammar Award

From 2013 the Academy awarded a Bad Grammar Award.[8][9][10] Entries were nominated by Idler readers and Academy students and judged by a panel of experts.


Notable past contributors

Contributors and interviewees who have been featured in the Idler include:

Current columnists and regulars


  1. About The Idler. The Idler (17 June 2009). Retrieved on 7 January 2012.
  2. Phil Hammond (15 September 2010). Sex, Sleep or Scrabble: Seriously Funny Answers to Life's Quirkiest Queries. Black & White Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84502-526-7. 
  3. Busy doing nothing: Ten years of The Idler's interviews with outstanding bohemians - Features - Books. The Independent (8 September 2013). Retrieved on 15 February 2014.
  4. The New York Times. Retrieved on 29 July 2016.
  5. Ian Sansom (4 April 2009). Review: Secret World of the Working Mother by Fiona Millar, The See-Saw by Julia Hobsbawm and The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson. The Guardian. Retrieved on 15 February 2014.
  6. Terry Kirby (25 March 2004). Revealed: the top 100 'crap' towns in Britain. The Independent. Retrieved on 15 February 2014.
  7. The Idler. Retrieved on 29 July 2016.
  8. Just how bad is bad grammar? - BBC News. Retrieved on 29 July 2016.
  9. Bad Grammar Award 2014 shortlist. Telegraph. Retrieved on 29 July 2016.
  10. Bad Grammar Awards 2015: Amazon win (or is that wins?). The Idler. Retrieved on 29 July 2016.