Good things come to those who procrastinate?

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    30 June 2012 | NewScientist | 47

    A little patience Wait: The art and science of delay by Frank Partnoy, Da Capo/PublicAffairs, 15.99/$26.99

    Reviewed by Catherine de Lange

    PUT reading Wait to the top of your to-do list and chances are you still wont get around to it. Although we live in a society obsessed

    with productivity, as many as one in five adults are chronic procrastinators, says to Frank Partnoy at the University of San Diego, California. Students spend a third of their time procrastinating, for example. So whats to be done?

    Not a lot, says Partnoy, who argues in Wait that there are upsides to putting things off. The trick is to work out whether the benefits of delaying the task outweigh the costs. He even recommends a questionnaire to help you find out. The thing is, all this talk of procrastination begins to feel like procrastination itself and doesnt seem to make that to-do list any more appealing.

    When he moves past procrastination, things get a bit more interesting. Partnoy shows, for example, how a subliminal image of a fast food company logo on a screen can lead people to act more quickly and become less able to enjoy things like beautiful photos and music. When it comes to pleasure, speed kills.

    Partnoy also explores snap reactions, making the case that we shouldnt always go with our gut. He cites studies that reveal impulsive racial biases in those who claim to be open-minded. We need to slow down and acknowledge these prejudices in order to tackle them, he says.

    Wait is no page-turner, and reads more like a series of well-written articles than a cohesive book. Still, if you find yourself with an unpleasant to-do list, there are worse ways to kill time. n



    Artist in the wood Sculptor David Nash creates new works from withering trees at Londons Kew Gardens

    David Nash at Kew Gardens at Kews Royal Botanic Gardens, UK, from 9 June

    Reviewed by Kat Austen

    THE oak has sheltered visitors to Kew Gardens in London since the 18th century. But now, beset by Agrilus beetles that have been steadily eating away at its trunk, the 300-year-old tree is at the end of its life.

    Unlike other victims of acute oak decline, this magnificent tree will live again. Still rooted in place, its canopy has been carefully removed, and its outer bark and sapwood stripped off. Skinned to its heartwood, the oak is slowly being reborn as art: a segmented, bulbous sculpture that resembles a blank totem pole.

    The resurrectionist is David Nash, a British sculptor famous for his large-scale charred wooden artworks. The sculpture is part of a year-long residency at Kew, where Nash will be making site-specific works in a wood quarry a kind of outdoor sculpture studio. As well as the oak, the arboretum team has earmarked four other declining hardwoods for Nash to transform into artworks.

    Removing ailing trees may be good for the health of the arboretum, but dispatching them is seldom easy. An arboretum is like a family, says Tony Kirkham, head of Kews arboretum. Its always sad when a tree has to go, when its come to the end of its life. Nashs grand sculptures should go some way towards alleviating that gloom.

    The theme running through his works made Nash a perfect fit for Kews first artist in residence, says

    Stephen Hopper, director of the gardens: Theres an underlying conservation message. David makes these pieces out of something that people would see as firewood.

    Nash, too, has gained a new perspective. In the gardens collections and research labs, he has been studying the biology of the material he has sculpted for

    The charred Black Trunk stands as proud as Kews pagoda

    decades. I have been able to look down a microscope at wood for the first time, he says.

    In addition to the new sculptures that he is creating during the residency, many of his previous works are on display in an on-site gallery and throughout the gardens. The towering redwood block, Black Trunk (pictured), stands as a shadow of Kews iconic pagoda. Within the Temperate House, a vast Victorian glasshouse, his Two Falling Spoons carving sweeps the same curve as the palm trunk above them.

    You can have the sculptures in a gallery, says Kirkham, but its the arboretum, the living trees, that really sets them off. n

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