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

Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First from Harper
Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First from Harper Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First from Harper (click images to enlarge)

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

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Description of Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers,...

Though we can be described as voters or households or taxpayers or workers or whatever label suits the political calendar, Trentmann thinks our identity as consumers trumps all others. A typical German owns some 10,000 objects, he notes, while a standard Los Angeles garage may not house a car but rather hundreds of boxes of random stuff. “Instead of warriors or workers, we are more than ever before consumers,” Trentmann writes. “In the rich world — and in the developing world increasingly, too — identities, politics, the economy and the environment are crucially shaped by what and how we consume.”

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“Empire of Things isn't just an insightful and surprisingly entertaining read, but a crucial one.”—NPR

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.

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