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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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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Eligible for Family Library

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Stuffocation is a movement manifesto for “experiential” living, a call to arms to stop accumulating stuff and start accumulating experiences, and a road map for a new way forward with the potential to transform our lives.

Reject materialism. Embrace experientialism. Live more with less.
 
Stuffocation is one of the most pressing problems of the twenty-first century. We have more stuff than we could ever need, and it isn’t making us happier. It’s bad for the planet. It’s cluttering up our homes. It’s making us stressed—and it might even be killing us.
 
A rising number of us are already turning our backs on all-you-can-get consumption. We are choosing access over ownership, and taking our business to companies like Zipcar, Spotify, and Netflix. Fed up with materialism, we are ready for a new way forward.
 
Trend forecaster James Wallman traces our obsession with stuff back to the original Mad Men, who first created desire through advertising. He interviews anthropologists studying the clutter crisis, economists searching for new ways of measuring progress, and psychologists who link stuffocation to declining well-being. And he introduces us to the innovators who are already living more consciously and with more meaning by choosing experience over stuff.
 
Experientialism does not mean giving up all of our possessions. It is a solution that is less extreme but equally fundamental. It’s about transforming what we value. Stuffocation is a paradigm-shifting look at our habits and an inspiring call for living more with less. It’s the one important book you won’t be able to live without.
 
Praise for Stuffocation
 
“The revelations come fast and furious as he asserts that acquiring ‘stuff’ is often just an easy way to ignore the tougher questions of life, dodging ‘why am I here?’ and ‘how should I live?’ for ‘will that go with the top I bought last week?’ Tart and often funny . . . [Stuffocation] will be an eye-opener for those long ago persuaded that more is better. A scintillating read that will provoke conversation (or at least closet cleaning).”—Booklist

“James Wallman deftly hits upon a major insight for our times: that acquiring ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ is not nearly as meaningful as collecting experiences. Some of the happiest days of my life were when I had nothing and lived on a houseboat. Without stuff to tie me down, I felt completely free.”—Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS and author of the New York Times bestseller Start Something That Matters
 
“A must-read . . . We think that more stuff will make us happier, but as the book nicely shows, we’re just plain wrong. A great mix of stories and science, Stuffocation reveals the downside of more, and what we can do about it.”—Jonah Berger, author of the New York Times bestseller Contagious
 
“Wallman offers a deeply important message by weaving contemporary social science into very engaging stories. Reading the book is such a pleasure that you hardly recognize you’re being told that you should change how you live your life.”—Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice
 
“With a sociologist’s eye and a storyteller’s ear, Wallman takes us on a tour of today’s experience economy from the perspective not of businesses, nor even of consumers per se, but of everyday people.”—B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, authors of The Experience Economy


From the Hardcover edition.
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