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Review Essay

Having It All

A History of Global Consumption

In This Review

Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, From the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First
Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, From the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First
By Frank Trentmann
Harper, 2016, 880 pp. Purchase

The historian Frank Trentmann has written the first total history of consumption. Empire of Things is an original, ambitious account that begins in the fifteenth century, spans the globe, and examines a wide range of regimes, from liberal democracies to fascist dictatorships. The book could hardly be more relevant: since the Great Recession began in 2007, the world has been mired in a global economic crisis with the consumer at its core. As inequal­ity soared in the years leading up to the crash, middle-class consumers, in the absence of rising incomes, relied on credit to sustain their standards of living. Sensing an opportunity, banks and other financial firms began selling mortgages to people who could not afford them. When the debt bubble burst, millions lost their homes, pensions, and hopes for a more prosperous future. European welfare states introduced harsh austerity measures, Asian domestic demand slowed, and the global economy

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