Though fraught with inelegant-sounding sentences, Trentmann’s history of five centuries of material culture is impressive in its breadth and scholarship. Anyone with compulsive buying disorder should buy a copy, or two, or three. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
Despite the book’s scale, conclusiveness is not one of its goals. Empire of Things is difficult, sometimes elusive, yet almost always illuminating. By the end received wisdom is weakened, though we never become quite sure what to put in its place. But in an academic field—studying consumption—that can seem wary of its own specialty, that turns out to be a refreshing novelty, like window shopping without having to decide on a final purchase.
It's an enormous undertaking, and the size of the book reflects that. It's huge. Thankfully it's also hugely readable. Combining a dizzying array of disciplines — economics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, religion, geopolitics, and even etymology — Empire deftly juggles a colossal load.