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

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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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About the author

Frank Trentmann is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London, and directed the £5 million Cultures of Consumption research program. His last book, Free Trade Nation, won the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize. He was educated at Hamburg University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Harvard University. He has been the Fernand Braudel Senior Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, as well as a visiting professor at Bielefeld University, the University of St. Gallen, the British Academy, and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. In 2014 he was awarded the Moore Distinguished Fellowship at the California Institute of Technology.

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Additional Information

Publisher
HarperCollins
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Published on
Mar 29, 2016
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Pages
880
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ISBN
9780062456335
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Consumer Behavior
History / Social History
History / World
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Content protection
This content is DRM protected.
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