The best books on consumerism

1 authors have picked their favorite books about consumerism and why they recommend each book.

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Irresistible Empire

By Victoria de Grazia,

Book cover of Irresistible Empire: America's Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe

This is an outstanding work, full of surprise and insight informed by excellent research. As the author explores the wave of American ideas that broke across the European Continent in the early decades of the 20th Century, we gain a deep insight into the power and creativity of American thinking in those years. The Chain Store revolutionised commerce, becoming "a machine for selling"; mass consumerism was underpinned by new kinds of currency and credit: postal money orders, travelers' cheques, credit cards, and installment plans; advertizing corporations promoted branded goods, spreading Coca Cola, Kellog’s Corn Flakes and Campbell’s Soups around the world. Ultimately, De Grazia shows, the American “standard of living” became a yardstick for measuring the status of any population in the world.

Irresistible Empire

By Victoria de Grazia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Irresistible Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most significant conquest of the twentieth century may well have been the triumph of American consumer society over Europe's bourgeois civilization. It is this little-understood but world-shaking campaign that unfolds in Irresistible Empire, Victoria de Grazia's brilliant account of how the American standard of living defeated the European way of life and achieved the global cultural hegemony that is both its great strength and its key weakness today.

De Grazia describes how, as America's market empire advanced with confidence through Europe, spreading consumer-oriented capitalism, all alternative strategies fell before it-first the bourgeois lifestyle, then the Third Reich's command consumption,…


Who am I?

Tristram Riley-Smith was posted to the British Embassy in Washington DC in the aftermath of 9/11. Alongside his day job he applied his skills as a Cultural Anthropologist to understand the greatest nation of the 20th Century as it crossed the threshold of the 21st. His interest is in all forms of invention, from those narratives and performances that give meaning to people’s lives to the material objects that furnish their world. In his book The Cracked Bell, Riley-Smith weaves his observations together in a literary portrait of America, revealing the alchemy of opposites that makes up this extraordinary nation.


I wrote...

The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty

By Tristram Riley-Smith,

Book cover of The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty

What is my book about?

The twin concepts of liberty and the free market have been instrumental in shaping American identity. Here, author Tristram Riley-Smith delves into how the perverting of these concepts has led to today's economic crisis and identity crisis for America.


Including President Obama's election and the initial stimulus package, Riley-Smith takes us on a whirlwind examination of America. For three years, he served in the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and traveled throughout the country and this outsider's perspective offers an in-depth look at the state of American culture after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, toxic debts, and the credit crunch. With lively, insightful commentary, careful research, and illuminating personal anecdotes, Riley-Smith uses images like the cracked liberty bell to explain just where things went wrong, and how we can make them right. He touches upon big issues and examines America's consumer culture, using recognizable icons like Martha Stewart, Giorgio Armani, artist Barbara Kruger, and Wal-Mart.

Waste and Want

By Susan Strasser, Alice Austen (photographer),

Book cover of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

How many times have you tossed something in the trash without thinking about it? That throwaway mentality would be unrecognizable to earlier generations of Americans, who reused and repurposed and made do, because they had to. As I went through the process of emptying out my mother’s overstuffed house, I wondered when our things had gotten the better of us. Susan Strasser, a historian who’s also written about housework and consumerism, explains how and why Americans’ attitudes toward trash have shifted so radically since the country’s early days.

Waste and Want

By Susan Strasser, Alice Austen (photographer),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Waste and Want as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An unprecedented look at that most commonplace act of everyday life-throwing things out-and how it has transformed American society.

Susan Strasser's pathbreaking histories of housework and the rise of the mass market have become classics in the literature of consumer culture. Here she turns to an essential but neglected part of that culture-the trash it produces-and finds in it an unexpected wealth of meaning.

Before the twentieth century, streets and bodies stank, but trash was nearly nonexistent. With goods and money scarce, almost everything was reused. Strasser paints a vivid picture of an America where scavenger pigs roamed the streets,…


Who am I?

I didn’t choose clutter as a topic—it chose me. Around the time Marie Kondo became a tidying-up sensation, my mother suffered a breakdown and could no longer live in her dangerously cluttered house. I’m an only child, so it fell to me to figure what to do with it all. So much stuff! It got me wondering: How did clutter get to be such a huge problem for so many people? The books on this list helped answer that question and made me feel less alone in the struggle with stuff. I hope you find them useful too.


I wrote...

Clutter: An Untidy History

By Jennifer Howard,

Book cover of Clutter: An Untidy History

What is my book about?

Inspired by the painful process of cleaning out her mother’s house, Jennifer Howard sets her own personal struggle with clutter against a meticulously researched history of just how the developed world came to drown in material goods. In an age when Amazon can deliver anything at the click of a mouse and decluttering guru, Marie Kondo can become a reality TV star, Howard’s bracing analysis has never been more timely. Slim and compelling, Clutter is a book for anyone struggling to understand why they have so much stuffand what to do about it.

Book cover of "Don't You Know Who I Am?" How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility

If you feel like the world has become more narcissistic and entitled, then this book is for you. It examines the root of narcissism and how we can and should remove toxic narcissists from our lives. If you have ever witnessed egregious, inappropriate, and downright nasty behavior from others, you will get a deeper understanding of it and how to disengage from it in your own life.

"Don't You Know Who I Am?" How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility

By Ramani S. Durvasula,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked "Don't You Know Who I Am?" How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's time to take our lives back from a world of narcissism, entitlement, and toxic relationships.

"Don't You Know Who I Am?" has become the mantra of the famous and infamous, the entitled and the insecure. It's the tagline of the modern narcissist.

Health and wellness campaigns preach avoidance of unhealthy foods, sedentary lifestyles, tobacco, drugs, and alcohol, but rarely preach avoidance of unhealthy, difficult or toxic people. Yet the health benefits of removing toxic people from your life may have far greater benefits to both physical and psychological health. We need to learn to be better gatekeepers for our…


Who am I?

I am a licensed psychotherapist in private practice and an author. My clinical interests and published books are about narcissism. After being in an emotionally abusive relationship with a narcissist (which I suspect may have turned physical if I had stayed), I decided to make it my mission to not only never experience having a cold and calculating narcissist in my life again, but to also help other people avoid or leave any type of relationship with a narcissist. To this day, I am passionate about researching, writing, and educating others on the dangers of narcissism.


I wrote...

The Facebook Narcissist: How to Identify and Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Social Media Narcissism

By Lena Derhally,

Book cover of The Facebook Narcissist: How to Identify and Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Social Media Narcissism

What is my book about?

A comprehensive guide for understanding how narcissism on social media impacts our mental health, how to protect ourselves and our children from those affected as well as from narcissists, and how to use social media more mindfully. 

The Facebook Narcissist is the first book dedicated to exploring the relationship between narcissism and social media. Lena Derhally, a licensed psychotherapist certified in Imago therapy, delves into how social media enhances individual and cultural narcissism and how it may create or exacerbate toxic narcissistic tendencies in people who use it. Using her clinical expertise, along with scientific research and interviews with other experts in the field, she thoroughly examines: how narcissism on social media contributes to false narratives and ruptures relationships; narcissism and cyberbullying, cyberstalking, trolling, and victim-blaming on social media; and more. 

How Modernity Forgets

By Paul Connerton,

Book cover of How Modernity Forgets

A concise and lucid sociological treatise that relates forgetting to the transitions and rapid changes of contemporary urban life, which has eroded the ways in which societies traditionally remembered the past.

How Modernity Forgets

By Paul Connerton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Modernity Forgets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why are we sometimes unable to remember events, places and objects? This concise overview explores the concept of 'forgetting', and how modern society affects our ability to remember things. It takes ideas from Francis Yates classic work, The Art of Memory, which viewed memory as being dependent on stability, and argues that today's world is full of change, making 'forgetting' characteristic of contemporary society. We live our lives at great speed; cities have become so enormous that they are unmemorable; consumerism has become disconnected from the labour process; urban architecture has a short life-span; and social relationships are less clearly…


Who am I?

Guy Beiner specializes in the history of social remembering in the late modern era. An interest in Irish folklore and oral traditions as historical sources led him to explore folk memory, which in turn aroused an interest in forgetting. He examines the many ways in which communities recall their past, as well as how they struggle with the urge to supress troublesome memories of discomfiting episodes.


I wrote...

Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster

By Guy Beiner,

Book cover of Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster

What is my book about?

Forgetful Remembrance examines the paradoxes of what actually happens when communities persistently endeavour to forget inconvenient events. The question of how a society attempts to obscure problematic historical episodes is addressed through a detailed case study grounded in the north-eastern counties of the Irish province of Ulster, where loyalist and unionist Protestants--and in particular Presbyterians--repeatedly tried to repress over two centuries discomfiting recollections of participation, alongside Catholics, in a republican rebellion in 1798.

Cairo

By Maria Golia,

Book cover of Cairo: City of Sand

The book gives the reader a deep layered understanding of Egypt before the 2011 uprising to look at the state of the nation and into the heart of Cairo, an ancient city but now a metropolis of over 20 million. Written with a novelist's flare this is an intimate portrait of the lives of Cairenes that explores hidden aspects of this mysterious city. The author builds an intriguing story on the religious beliefs, family values, negotiating tactics, driving habits, and attitudes towards foreigners. This is a reflection on a wonderous city, a place of sadness and of hope, which uses the metaphor of Saharan desert sand blowing in to shape the sand castle politics of the Mubarak era that would come crashing down in the 2011 Revolution.

Cairo

By Maria Golia,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cairo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cairo is a 1,400-year-old metropolis whose streets are inscribed with sagas, a place where the pressures of life test people's equanimity to the very limit. Virtually surrounded by desert, sixteen million Cairenes cling to the Nile and each other, proximities that colour and shape lives. Packed with incident and anecdote "Cairo: City of Sand" describes the city's given circumstances and people's attitudes of response. Apart from a brisk historical overview, this book focuses on the present moment of one of the world's most illustrious and irreducible cities. Cairo steps inside the interactions between Cairenes, examining the roles of family, tradition…


Who am I?

I'm a writer and filmmaker based in Cairo for over a decade. I was inspired to move to Egypt when I visited during the 2011 Revolution and fell in love with the vibrance of the city. Since then Cairo has changed and I have lived through an extraordinary history with some difficult times but always with a sense of curiosity for stories. My book, Cairo’s Ultras, began as a documentary film project in 2012 and I have found many other interesting topics during my time in this enigmatic and fascinating place. I will publish a second book next year, called Decolonising Images, that looks at the photographic heritage and visual culture of Egypt.


I wrote...

Cairo's Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture

By Ronnie Close,

Book cover of Cairo's Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture

What is my book about?

The history of Cairo’s football fans is one of the most poignant narratives of the January 25th, 2011 Egyptian uprising. Football fans became embroiled in the street protests that brought down the Mubarak regime and in the violent turmoil since the Ultras have been locked in a bitter conflict with the security state. This book explores the Ultras in Cairo and their role in the uprising alongside the politics of soccer in Egypt. Cairo’s Ultras provides an intimate sense of this unique subculture and how football communities offer ways of belonging in everyday life. Along the way, the book skewers media clichés and retraces Egyptian revolutionary politics to consider the capacity of sport to emancipate through fan performances on the football terraces.

A Thirst for Empire

By Erika Rappaport,

Book cover of A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World

There is no shortage of great books on the history of tea, but this one is my favorite because it is a global history of how a commodity, rather than a people, conquered the world. Carefully researched and engagingly written, the book begins its story in the seventeenth century, when China controlled the trade and Europe was a distant secondary market. The book then moves through tea's history—from exclusively Asian drink to staple at the heart of English identity—and the consequences for the planet and human history.

A Thirst for Empire

By Erika Rappaport,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thirst for Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How the global tea industry influenced the international economy and the rise of mass consumerism

Tea has been one of the most popular commodities in the world. For centuries, profits from its growth and sales funded wars and fueled colonization, and its cultivation brought about massive changes-in land use, labor systems, market practices, and social hierarchies-the effects of which are with us even today. A Thirst for Empire takes an in-depth historical look at how men and women-through the tea industry in Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa-transformed global tastes and habits. An expansive and original global history of imperial…


Who am I?

I am a Professor of History at Texas A&M University and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.  I teach and research broadly in the histories of Britain and its empire, North America, and the Atlantic world. I am the author of four books, including Making Headlines: The American Revolution as Seen through the British Press and The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812. I am especially fascinated with how imperialism shape colonizers’ cultures.


I wrote...

Eating the Empire: Food and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain

By Troy Bickham,

Book cover of Eating the Empire: Food and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain

What is my book about?

When students gathered in a London coffeehouse and smoked tobacco; when Yorkshire women sipped sugar-infused tea; or when a Glasgow family ate a bowl of Indian curry, were they aware of the mechanisms of imperial rule and trade that made such goods readily available?

In Eating the Empire, Troy Bickham unfolds the extraordinary role that food played in shaping Britain during the long eighteenth century (circa 1660–1837), when such foreign goods as coffee, tea, and sugar went from rare luxuries to some of the most ubiquitous commodities in Britain—reaching even the poorest and remotest of households. Bickham reveals how trade in the empire’s edibles underpinned the emerging consumer economy, fomenting the rise of modern retailing, visual advertising, and consumer credit, and, via taxes, financed the military and civil bureaucracy that secured, governed, and spread the British Empire.

Love People, Use Things

By Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus,

Book cover of Love People, Use Things: Because the Opposite Never Works

Josh and Ryan of The Minimalists have been doing a good job, for years, writing about the correlation between consumeristic compulsions and the spaces in our lives these acquisitions are meant to fill. This book focuses especially on several types of relationships that tend to shape our sense of satisfaction and fulfillment with life, alongside discussions of their own (at times troubled) relationships with people and possessions.

Love People, Use Things

By Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love People, Use Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER**

"The Minimalists show you how to disconnect from our conditioned material state and reconnect to our true essence: love people and use things. This is not a book about how to live with less, but about how to live more deeply and more fully."
―Jay Shetty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Like a Monk

AS SEEN ON THE NETFLIX DOCUMENTARIES MINIMALISM & LESS IS NOW

How might your life be better with less?

Imagine a life with less: less stuff, less clutter, less stress and debt and discontent―a life with fewer…


Who am I?

I find a lot of satisfaction and beauty in the interconnections between people and things and concepts, as these relationships are numberless and varied, and the web they make—that entangling mesh—essentially defines everything and everything we’ll ever know or be capable of knowing. Relationships between people are just as diverse and structural to the shape of humanity and our globe-straddling society as anything else we might build or accomplish.


I wrote...

Some Thoughts about Relationships

By Colin Wright,

Book cover of Some Thoughts about Relationships

What is my book about?

A book for people who aspire to relationships tailor-made for their unique beliefs, goals, desires, and lifestyles. A book for people who aren’t afraid to ask, “How might we do this better?”

Friday Black

By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,

Book cover of Friday Black

Such a rule breaker. A complete disregard for the laws of nature. That can’t happen! I shouldn’t feel so for those characters! And yet, and yet! The characters that people these pages are real and convincing. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah takes us in and out of realities. His world is dark sibling to our everyday world, but even his most flawed characters resonate with dignity, and through skillful well-crafted revelation, the reader comes to understand why these characters struggle—often against societal forces larger/older/engrained—and even when his characters make bad decisions (lord knows a misbehaving character is what good fiction is about) a glimmer of the potential for human goodness is exposed. This a contemporary voice, fierce and fresh, and worth paying attention to.

Friday Black

By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Friday Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The instant New York Times bestseller
'An unbelievable debut' New York Times

Racism, but "managed" through virtual reality

Black Friday, except you die in a bargain-crazed throng

Happiness, but pharmacological

Love, despite everything

A Publisher's Weekly Most Anticipated Book for Fall 2018

Friday Black tackles urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explores the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In the first, unforgettable story of this collection, The Finkelstein Five, Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unstinting reckoning of the brutal prejudice of the US justice system. In Zimmer Land we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of…


Who am I?

Most of my public success has been as a novelist. My MFA, from the Iowa Writers Workshop, is in poetry. When I grow up, I want to be a short story writer. The dirty truth is, though, I’ve been making trouble with stories since I was a kid. During my first attempt in 10th grade, I wrote a story that got me suspended for two weeks. No explanation. No guidance. Just a conference between my parents, teachers, and principal (I wasn’t present), and they came out and banished me. I dropped out of school shortly after. I reckon that experience, both shameful and delicious, shaped my life and love of narrative.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

What is my book about?

Five thousand years out of the labyrinth, the Minotaur finds himself in the American South, living in a trailer park and working as a line cook at a steakhouse. No longer a devourer of human flesh, the Minotaur is a socially inept, lonely creature with very human needs. But over a two-week period, as his life dissolves into chaos, this broken and alienated immortal awakens to the possibility for happiness and to the capacity for love.

Fight Club

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Book cover of Fight Club

Who doesn’t love a novel where the protagonist discovers he’s not the person he thought he was. There’s one such big reveal in Fight Club, and it throws into question everything that has happened and will happen. Stuck in a dull life without purpose, the novel’s unnamed (and apparently unreliable) narrator meets a strange, destructive soap-seller named Tyler Durden, with whom he establishes a fight club. But when (spoiler) the narrator learns he is Tyler Durden, it becomes clear how far this brilliant, subversive novel is leading the reader down a dark and dangerous road in search of deeper meaning.

Fight Club

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Fight Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation's most visionary satirist in this, his first book. Fight Club's estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basements of bars. There, two men fight "as long as they have to." This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.


Who am I?

As someone who spent his days working as a journalist and his nights writing novels and short stories, I've always been fascinated by the fine line separating fact and fiction. We live our lives conforming to the rules of our universe, yet sometimes feel brave enough to ask what’s that? and watch with delight as reality transforms into fantasy. What, exactly, is that brilliant sunset? Billions of bits of light being processed by our survival-evolved brain as a reminder to seek shelter before the perilous darkness descends? The wondrous work of God’s hand? A pleasing distraction from the brutality of our brief existence? Something else we may never comprehend? Great stories help us decide.


I wrote...

No, You're Crazy: A Novel

By Jeff Beamish,

Book cover of No, You're Crazy: A Novel

What is my book about?

When sixteen-year-old Ashlee Sutton's home life falls apart, she is beset by a rare mental illness that makes her believe she's clairvoyant. While most people scoff at her, she begins demonstrating an uncanny knack for sometimes predicting the future, using what could either be pure luck or something more remarkable. And when she helps her drug-addict father win enough casino cash to accidentally overdose, she becomes the target of violent people determined to exploit her, and she goes on the run. No, You’re Crazy is a multi-layered novel that examines the many ways a family can wound and heal us. A page-turning thriller and a sensitive look at faith and neurodiversity, it ultimately dares to ask, Who gets to decide what’s real?

Consumed

By Aja Barber,

Book cover of Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism

My secret theory (or formerly secret, anyway) is that if books had best friends, my book's BFF would be this book. Aja and I were clearly on the same wavelength when writing our books, and there are many common threads, but Consumed takes a much deeper dive into consumerism broadly and the fashion industry specifically, tying environmental and worker exploitation concerns together seamlessly. You’ll come away with real resolve to consume much less, as well as clarity on how to push producers of goods you buy to do much, much better.

Consumed

By Aja Barber,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Consumed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

***

'This powerful, speaking-truth-to-power book is an essential read for everybody who wants to stop feeling clueless and helpless about the impacts of cosumerism, and start doing their part to help create a more sustainable world' - Layla Saad

'A critique on what we buy, how it's made and the systems behind it that make an unfair and broken cycle' - New York Times

'The book is a blueprint for anyone who wants to do better' - VOGUE

'SUCH integrity. Aja is no bullsh*t.' - Florence Given

'Consumed takes us through the hideously complex topic of fashion and sustainability, from…


Who am I?

I have spent 20+ years working on the question of how social and environmental change happens, from my long-time career in progressive politics to my current work writing about the most pressing issues of our time through an economic lens, and occasionally talking about them on my podcast, also called Wallet Activism. So I know well how intimidating it can feel to get involved, whether it’s worrying your voice isn’t needed (trust me, it is!) or not knowing the nuts and bolts of where to start. But we have so much power when we act collectively, and I want you to feel personally invited to take action.


I wrote...

Book cover of Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn, and Save as a Force for Change

What is my book about?

Wallet Activism is about using your financial power in all its forms to address the climate crisis and the inequality crisis. You have so much more power than you think! Corporations and leaders want you to feel powerless so you’ll go along with the status quo, but Wallet Activism debunks that myth and shows you how to see through marketing lies and use your financial power to address the climate crisis and social injustice when choosing what you buy, who to work for, where to live, how to give money away, where to save and invest your money, and so much more. It equips you with the best questions to ask to make choices that have real impact and don’t just make you feel better.

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