Summary of Consuming Splendor

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If you think conspicuous consumption is a modern trend, or that globalization and outsourcing are recent phenomena, historian Linda Levy Peck has news for you. In this study, she explains that the English folk of four centuries ago were ever eager to keep up with the Joneses by blowing some of their disposable income on silks, paintings, chocolate and other pricey items that weren't exactly necessities. Indeed, their appetite for the finer things helped pave the way for today's mass materialism and international trade. A taste for fancy goods isn't so new, nor is debate over what shopping means to the structure of society. Levy Peck's professorial prose is dense, but her theme is eye-opening. getAbstract recommends this overview to anyone who'd like to understand what motivates consumers now and has motivated them for centuries.

About the Author

Linda Levy Peck is Columbian Professor of History at George Washington University. Her previous books include Northampton: Patronage and Policy at the Court of James I and Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England.



The Roots of Modern Materialism

Historians often view seventeenth-century England through the prism of religion and politics. It was when Protestantism rose and the rule of law beat the iron fist of monarchy. Another story line is often ignored, even though this theme will resonate with modern students of consumer behavior: Seventeenth-century England incubated crass consumerism and mass materialism. As merchants and the wealthy gained new access to international markets, the tastes of English society became more sophisticated, worldly and refined. Luxury goods such as silk, chocolate and art suddenly became readily available and widely sold, even as the church taught that buying such items was immoral. Critics widely condemned the buying of luxury goods as morally bankrupt. Nevertheless, members of England's affluent class bought jewelry, silver and porcelain to convey their status. The rise of shopping as a social activity generated moral debate and economic growth. The wave of consumerism helped push England from also-ran to world leader. Demand for consumer goods made it a hub of innovation and financial power.

The moral debate over luxury was a particularly strong...

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