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Consumerism in World History

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Consumerism in World History. The Global Transformation of Desire, Second Edition
by Peter N. Stearns. Part of the Themes in World History Series. (Routledge, An Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group: New York and London: 2006. Pg. xi, 164.) ISBN: 0-415-39587-9.

Reviewed by Herbert White - February 5, 2007

Consumerism is an unusual topic for historical inquiry. However, as Peter N. Stearns delineates in Consumerism in World History: The Global Transformation of Desire, it is indeed a compelling and integral aspect of modern history. First published in 2001, the second edition of this book has been completely updated, and additional information has been added, such as a chapter on Latin America, examples of consumerist syncretism, and recent developments in Russia and China.

Stearns presents a rather detailed overview of consumerism in world history, despite the fact that this is a relatively short book. Nonetheless, within the scope of this book, Stearns succinctly covers the history and development of consumerism, how and why it happened, and how it has changed over time. He also looks at how consumerism differs in various regions, and under various political regimes. In addition, each chapter in this book concludes with an up-to-date list of 'further readings' that provide direction for further study in this developing and fascinating historical field of inquiry.

Consumerism in World History is organized into three sections. The first section deals with the development, causes, and spread of consumerism, and consumerism in the West. The second section contains five chapters that deal with consumerism in specific regions, namely Russia, East Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Islamic Middle East. The final section of this book is devoted to the impact of consumerism in the modern world, and the impact that consumerism is likely to have in the future.

Consumerism in World History is an engrossing book that should be required reading by all students of history, political science, anthropology, and sociology. However, it is undergraduate students of world history who will most benefit from this book as it details the diachronic development of consumerism. It will broaden their perceptive on the process of globalization and the widening gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', how this gap affects consumerism and how these inequalities will affect future political and social trends. This book also will help students to understand how an abstract subject, such as consumerism, is studied using historical methodologies. I highly recommend this text as a supplemental text in undergraduate world history courses, and as a reference text for advanced students.

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