*** Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann


Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First is an ambitious, sweeping, and long (700 pages!) history of our collective hoarding for centuries, and across many countries, including many in Europe, the US, China, Japan, and the ex-British Empire. The author has looked at death inventories, the content of New York City trash cans, the sometimes uneasy relationship between religion and consumption, housing, and leisure activities. The book is surprisingly easy to read considering its scope, although occasionally statistics could be anchored better. 225 gallons of water per person in Atlanta in 1884. He says that’s a lot — but what do we consume today? And cross-country data presented in line graphs would be much easier to consume if placed on a map. Still, an enjoyable synthesis of evolving lifestyles.

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