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Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First

Category: Book
By (author): Trentmann, Frank
Subject:  BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Consumer Behavior
  HISTORY / Social History
  HISTORY / World
Audience: general/trade
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: March 2017
Format: Book-paperback
Pages: 880
Size: 9.00in x 6.00in x 1.51in

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*

What we consume has become a central-perhaps the central-feature of modern life. Our economies live or die by spending, we increasingly define ourselves by our possessions, and this ever-richer lifestyle has had an extraordinary impact on our planet. How have we come to live with so much stuff, and how has this changed the course of history?

In Empire of Things, Frank Trentmann unfolds the extraordinary story of our modern material world, from Renaissance Italy and late Ming China to today's global economy. While consumption is often portrayed as a recent American export, this monumental and richly detailed account shows that it is in fact a truly international phenomenon with a much longer and more diverse history. Trentmann traces the influence of trade and empire on tastes, as formerly exotic goods like coffee, tobacco, Indian cotton and Chinese porcelain conquered the world, and explores the growing demand for home furnishings, fashionable clothes and convenience that transformed private and public life. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought department stores, credit cards and advertising, but also the rise of the ethical shopper, new generational identities and, eventually, the resurgence of the Asian consumer.

With an eye to the present and future, Frank Trentmann provides a long view on the global challenges of our relentless pursuit of more-from waste and debt to stress and inequality. A masterpiece of research and storytelling many years in the making, Empire of Things recounts the epic history of the goods that have seduced, enriched and unsettled our lives over the past six hundred years.

Review Quote*"[A] sweepingly detailed history of humanity's passion for the possession of objects ... [an] epic chronicle."
Review Quote*"Massively ambitious… Trentmann displays astonishing erudition across multiple disciplines."
Review Quote*"In this important book, Trentmann argues that our increasingly complex consumer societies have evolved over five centuries."
Review Quote*"[B]ig, deeply researched and hugely ambitious."
Review Quote*"Empire of Things is a masterpiece of historical research . . . a delight to read."
Review Quote*"At last, a genuinely enjoyable book about our addiction to things."
Review Quote*"Challenges the popular notion of a twenith-century ‘affluent society' and offers, instead, an illuminating account of how our vexing and complex attachment to things has arisen across the past five centuries from an interplay of market forces, politics, war, indentity and emotion."
Review Quote*"Sweeping, insightful and often surprising, this history of consumerism since the Elizabethans is itself a vast treasure chest of consumer pleasures, from coffee and chocolate to stuffed crocodiles. Fear of consumerism, Trentmann shows, is as old as consumerism itself: the Catholic Church inveighed against "luxury", while by 1770 one Scottish writer was complaining that his countrymen had become "slaves to their own wants". Yet Trentmann's bustling, overflowing book is a refreshing antidote to snobbish doom-mongering, showing how credit cards and washing machines have liberated rather than enslaved us."
Review Quote*"Informed, detailed, and dynamic….Trentmann has created a valuable contribution to the conversation around consumption-a commendable fusion of scholarship and engaging writing."