Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the 15th Century to the 21st

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9780141028743: Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the 15th Century to the 21st

'Magnificent ... groundbreaking ... a triumph' Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads 'A masterpiece, a delight to read ... a rare and beautiful thing' Gerard DeGroot, The Times What we consume has become the defining feature of our lives: our economies live or die by spending, we are treated more as consumers than workers, and even public services are presented to us as products in a supermarket. In this monumental study, acclaimed historian Frank Trentmann unfolds the extraordinary history that has shaped our material world, from late Ming China, Renaissance Italy and the British empire to the present. Astonishingly wide-ranging and richly detailed, Empire of Things explores how we have come to live with so much more, how this changed the course of history, and the global challenges we face as a result. 'I read Empire Of Things with unflagging fascination ... elegant, adventurous and colourful ... gleefully provocative' John Preston, Daily Mail 'Such a pleasure to read ... From Victorian department stores to modernist kitchens, his book revels in the things that most historians tend to overlook' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

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From the Back Cover:

What we consume has become a 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 has transformed private and public life. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries not only 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 the future, 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, Empire of Things recounts the epic history of the goods that have seduced, enriched, and unsettled our lives over the past six hundred years.

About the Author:

Frank Trentmann is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, and directed the 5 million Cultures of Consumption research programme. His last book, Free Trade Nation, won the Whitfield Prize for outstanding historical scholarship and achievement from the Royal Historical Society. He was educated at Hamburg University, the LSE and at Harvard, where he received his PhD. In 2014 he was Moore Distinguished Fellow at Caltech.

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