Summary of Empire of Things

How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First

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Empire of Things book summary
Historian tracks the fascinating rise of consumer culture from the Renaissance to the modern world.


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In this exhaustive study, historian Frank Trentmann traces the growth of consumer culture over the centuries since 1500. The grand sweep of history is here: the global spread of goods such as cotton, sugar and coffee; the rise of empires and colonialism; and the birth of the consumer culture of the 19th century. Trentmann offers highly granular glimpses of everyday life. You’ll learn, for instance, that a 16th-century Venetian named Andrea Faentino owned eight silver forks, while his contemporary Domenico Cappello had 12 forks. Trentmann doesn’t avoid the dark side of consumption, such as its exploitation of slavery or its impact on the environment. But, in the main, he offers an optimistic, colorful story of people’s ability to embrace a mass-produced culture without sacrificing their individuality. getAbstract believes that his detailed overview offers helpful background information for business students and professors, entrepreneurs and marketers, policy makers and international development officials.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How the modern consumer culture developed;
  • How the rise of empires, urbanization and fashion influenced consumption; and
  • How shoppers can prevent consumerism from depleting the world’s resources.


A “World of Goods”
In his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith said that consumption was “the sole end and purpose of all production.” From the vantage of a 21st century awash in consumer goods, it may appear he stated his case too mildly. Since the 18th ...
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About the Author

Frank Trentmann teaches history at the University of London’s Birkbeck College and directed the Cultures of Consumption research program from 2002 to 2007. His other books include The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption and Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives.

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