Short Take: Empire of Things – Frank Trentmann

Ok, I admit it: at 880 pages, this one wore me down. But I find myself coming back to it over and over. The subject is fascinating and the writing is great.

Empire of Things is such an on-point way to look a human history. It’s a sweeping, comprehensive look at consumption from ancient China through the modern international economy. And, really, when you look at how inextricably we tie out fortunes to economic growth based on accumulating things, this starts to seem like the only reasonable way to think about history. Needless to say, this is a book for fans of Jared Diamond and Thomas Piketty. Already being reviewed in England, The Times calls it “a masterpiece of historical research…a delight to read.”

“In this informed, detailed, and dynamic account, Trentmann…investigates how consumption—the acquisition, flow, use, and disposal of things—has become a defining feature of modern lives. Organizing his work in a broadly chronological but also thematic manner, Trentmann considers a wider time frame and geographic focus than many traditional accounts of socio-economic history….He reveals the major forces that have framed the context of what and how humans have consumed…[and] describes the inadequacies of various conventional perspectives and scholarly accounts. He takes no firm moral stance; rather, he aims to provide historical perspective on the rise of mass consumption, arguing that viewing the past through one’s own moral filter limits understanding….[A]valuable contribution to the conversation around consumption—a commendable fusion of scholarship and engaging writing.”
Publishers Weekly

Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (9780062456328) Frank Trentmann. $40.00 hardcover. 3/29/16 on sale.

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