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Empire of Things: Reviews, Articles, Radio and Talks

The Times, books of the year: "At last, a genuinely enjoyable book about our addiction to things"

Times Literary Supplement, books of the year: "Challenges the popular notion of a twentieth-century 'affluent society' and offers, instead, an illuminating account of how our vexing and complex attachment to things has arisen across the past five centuries from an interplay of market forces, politics, war, identity and emotion"

The Sunday Times, books of the year: "Sweeping, insightful and often surprising, this history of consumerism since the Elizabethans is itself a vast treasure chest of consumer pleasures, from coffee and chocolate to stuffed crocodiles. Fear of consumerism, Trentmann shows, is as old as consumerism itself.... Trentmann's bustling, overflowing book is a refreshing antidote to snobbish doom-mongering, showing how credit cards and washing machines have liberated rather than enslaved us."

BBC History Magazine, Books of the Year 2016: "magisterial...Consumption is more than purchasing ‘things’: it is also about meaning and power. Trentmann convincingly shows how a historical perspective can contribute not only to our understanding of how we got to this point in the history of consumption, but also how we might respond productively to some of the challenges we face. It is a global history; he needed every one of the 862 pages."

Top Five London’s Bestseller Non-Fiction, five weeks, February-March 2016 (source: Evening Standard)

"I have never encountered a work that so perfectly assesses the influence of shopping on the human experience. Empire of Things is a masterpiece of historical research ... a delight to read ... this book consistently entertains while it informs. In contrast to so many historians, Trentmann has the ability to write for the multitude without compromising on intellectual rigour." Gerard DeGroot, The Times Read the entire article here

"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… Empire of Things isn't just an insightful and surprisingly entertaining read, but a crucial one." NPR (National Public Radio, USA); Read the full article here

“Jam-packed with telling facts and counterintuitive provocations… Empire of Things is that rare tour d’horizon that expands your sense of what should count as the subject… A bracing argument." Deborah Cohen, New York Review of Books; Read the full article here

"Trentmann has written a suitably gigantic book for a gigantic subject but the mass of detail he provides never overwhelms. This is a book that can be dipped into and enjoyed at leisure. The first half, in which he describes how the consumer culture took off, is especially fascinating. You can't not learn something new here. He closes his epic tale on a sombre note, warning that unless a cultural revolution takes place, which frees us from our addiction to buying, consuming and then throwing things away, we risk submerging the entire planet in waste. Judging by our record so far, don't hold out your hopes." Marcus Tanner, Independent; Read the entire article here

"The first total history of consumption. Empire of Things is an original, ambitious account… Trentmann's history offers important lessons. The most important is that the wealth of nations depends on the wealth of their consumers." Victoria de Grazia, Foreign Affairs; Read the full article here

"an impressive work of synthesis and, in its emphasis on politics and the state, a timely corrective to much existing scholarship.... Based on specialist studies that range across five centuries, six continents and at least as many languages, the book is encyclopaedic in the best sense....The implications for our current moment are significant: sustainable consumption habits are as likely to result from social movements and political action as they are from self-imposed shopping fasts and wardrobe purges.... Empire of Things pushes repeatedly against the literature that conceptualises consumption as a matter of individual choice alone.... Here, as at many other junctures in the book, the statistics are fascinating." Rebecca Spang, Financial Times; Read the entire article here

"Monumental ... A rich picture of the variegated human impulses that have impelled the history of consumption ... The sheer breadth of Trentmann's panorama is impressive and no one can fail to learn from it" Guardian

"This hefty history of the rise of consumerism insightfully analyzes daily luxuries over five centuries." The New Yorker

"utterly fascinating... What makes Trentmann's book such a pleasure to read is not just the wealth of detail or the staggering international range, but the refreshing absence of moaning or moralising about our supposed addiction to owning more stuff." Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times; Must Reads: Our Choice of Best Recent Books; Read the entire article here

"A sweepingly detailed history of humanity's passion for the possession of objects... [An] epic chronicle." Edward Rothstein, Wall Street Journal; Read the entire article here

"big, deeply researched and hugely ambitious" Sam Leith, TLS (Times Literary Supplement); Read the article here

"A history not merely of consumption (and attitudes toward consumption) but also of the very idea of goods as a thing to be produced and consumed. Every page fascinates." Bloomberg, Great History Books of 2016

"Massively ambitious... Trentmann displays astonishing erudition across multiple disciplines." Carlos Lozada, Washington Post; Read the entire article here

"The real cost of our obsession with stuff." Sarah Begley, TIME magazine, Read the article here

"In order for me to try to convince you of how good this book is, I need to point out just how unqualified I am to review it. I'm not an economist... Nor am I a social historian. Yet I read Empire of Things - all 862 pages of it - with unflagging fascination. Frank Trentmann, professor of history at Birkbeck College, is not only an elegant, adventurous and colourful writer, he also manages the tricky balancing act of being eminently sensible and gleefully provocative. All too aptly, he has produced a thing to covet." John Preston, Daily Mail, Book of the Week; Read the entire article here

"The focus of this huge and ambitious book is far wider than merely shopping.... Trentmann starts by eschewing moral judgments on consumerism — yet ends with a powerful environmental critique of over-consumption. In terms of waste alone, the impact of even a high-tech, services-based economy is shocking: even if production of many things we consume is outsourced around the world, we still consume those resources and produce CO2 as a result. It's difficult not to conclude, as he does, that we need "a deeper and longer-lasting connection to fewer things"." Andrew Neather, Evening Standard; Read the entire article here

"Trentmann's history 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!" Ian Thomson, The Observer; and also Book of the Day 9th February 2016 Read the entire article here

“a thoroughly encapsulating and enjoyable account, which is well written and very accessible …. Laden with fascinating insights and accounts … this study spans not only six centuries and numerous civilisations, cultures and individuals but also finds time to comment on the beginnings, direction and outcomes of consumerism itself. This is a hugely impressive undertaking and an ambitious narrative. Moreover, the study strenuously challenges the nature, direction and consequences of consumerism in its modern form.” James Sheridan, The Irish Times; Read the entire article here

"The author possesses the rare ability both to challenge consumer specialists and to entertain a more general public with an engrossing dive into the depths of our present-day shopping and consumption addicted behaviour. Timely and provocative ...fascinating [and] inspiring... a shining example of an outstanding academic using history for evaluating and deciding on present-day, and even future, consumption-related conundrums and challenges in the world… what a gift of scholarship to the broader academic community this is. A must read." Ilja van Damme, Economic History Review

“a turning point in the history of consumption: it is surely on the way of becoming an indispensable classic in the field” (“l'ouvrage marque indéniablement un tournant dans l'histoire de la consommation: il est assurément en passe de devenir un classique incontournable dans le domaine”) Marie-Emmanuelle Chessel, Revue D'Histoire Modern & Contemporaine; Read the entire article here (en francais)

"A nuanced, scholarly study of how the rise of consumerism had a profound impact on human behaviour, politics, identity and environment. Crammed with facts, figures and telling anecdotes, it provides a welcome dose of historical realism" Jonathan Wright, The Tablet; Read the entire article here

"Empire of Things... is wider in scope geographically, historically and socially than anything preceding it... The epilogue to this story of consumption is salutary: history is essential to our understanding of the continuing rise in material consumption far beyond a sustainable level." Terry Newholm, Ethical Consumer; Read the entire article here

"a magisterial history of shopping and consumerism" Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist

“You won’t read a better researched book this year, or one with so many new insights per page… Reading the long history of consumerism has made a lot of what I’ve read on the subject look narrow and reductive, including plenty of things I’ve written myself. So thank you to Frank Trentmann for expanding my horizons.” Jeremy Williams, “Make Wealth History” blog; Read more here

"Frank Trentmann has written a history of consumption which puts the debates about capitalism on a solid footing... very readable." Werner Plumpe, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; Read the full article here [auf Deutsch]

"monumental" Vibe Termansen in Weekendavisen; Read the entire article here, in Danish: "En ubønhørlig appetit på ting"

“a long eventful story” Cordinna Budras, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; Read the article here [auf Deutsch]

"Set to become an essential point of reference.... One of the major contributions of the book is its subtle analysis of the role of the state for consumption, [by] providing symbolic resources, standards and ideologies that structure everyday life and ... by introducing civic and moral dimensions." La Vie des Idées (France); Click here to read the whole roundtable discussion

"Konsumismen präglar vår samtid, men i en nyutkommen bok skildrar Frank Trentmann hur vi hamnade här...mäktiga studien" ("Consumerism characterises our times, but Frank Trentmann shows how we ended up where we are ... a powerful study") Kim Salomon, Svenska Dagbladet; Read the entire article here (på svenska)

"Empire of Things kills a lot of idées reçues about consumerism... an impressive history" NRC Handelsblad (Netherlands)

“wonderfully readable …. This book offers the quickest step to a responsible consumer society” "wunderbar lesbar....Der kürzeste Weg zu einer mündigen Konsumgesellschaft ist die Lektüre dieses Buchs” Jurgen Reuß, Badische Zeitung; Read the full article here (auf Deutsch)

“a monumental work” Maxime Pasker, Spectrum der Wissenschaft; Read the full article here [auf Deutsch]

“Frank Trentmann blättert auf 1000 Seiten facettenreich die Geschichte des Konsums auf …ein Epochal-Werk” Lothar Warscheid, Saarbrucker Zeitung; Read the article here [auf Deutsch]

Book of the Year, EXAME (Brazil)

"impressive... written with wit and panache" Michal Kašpárek, Finmag; Read the full article here

"[A] masterwork... Knowing the global history of consumption allows for the possibility of change. Trentmann's meticulously researched but readable treatise is an excellent start." PopMatters, 9 out of 10 stars; Read the full article here



Listen to Frank Trentmann discuss "consumerism" with Bridget Kendall (BBC) and the sociologist Lyla Mehta and political scientist Eduardo Gómez on BBC Forum. For the podcast, click here

Royal Society of Arts, London, 28 January 2016"How We Became a World of Consumers" Video:

Audio only

LSE, Old Theatre, London, 1 February 2016 "Empire of Things: why we have too much stuff, and what to do about it"

Podcast about consumer culture with Dan Snow, the BBC "history guy": Listen here

Historyextra: Professor Frank Trentmann talks to us about his book Empire of Things, which considers how our patterns of consumption have changed over the centuries. Listen here


BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed: Empire of Things is a "magnum opus and a fine read" (Laurie Taylor, BBC) Download the programme here. The discussion starts at 11 minutes 36 seconds.

The Economist The Economist: Frank Trentmann explores his history of consumerism "Empire of Things" with Anne McElvoy and Brooke Unger, our consumer expert Listen here



Monocle On Monocle Weekly, Frank Trentmann tells us why we're a society of collectors and consumers. Listen here (the interview starts at 38 minutes and 39 seconds)


ABC/Australia: "How consumer culture makes the world go around" Listen here


WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, USA: Listen here

"Frank talks about the evolution of the consumer on Bloomberg Radio": Listen here

Newsday, BBC World Service

Inside Culture, with Fionn Davenport, RTE Radio 1, Ireland Listen here (jump to 39 minutes 50 seconds to listen to the relevant part of the programme)

Top of Mind with Julie Rose, BYU Radio, United States Listen here

WATR, Connecticut

Moncrieff – Newstalk (Ireland)

TRE – Talk Radio Europe

WDR 5 Redezeit

WDR 3 Mosaik

Deutschlandfunk Kultur

Radio Bremen

CBC Radio, Canada

BYU Radio, USA

Deutschlandfunk, "Die Qual der Wahl"

Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk: "A monumental masterpiece. Trentmann offers analytically so many surprises and insights. He narrates wonderful stories and his book reads like a novel, so colourful and gripping does it write about the world of things." And listen to the podcast here



Watch the discussion of technology and consumer change on the Irish TV series "The Gadget Buzz", Ireland TV3 and e3, episode 3, here:

Watch the episode of the German television programme Scobel, 3sat here

"Full of surprises, what a magnificent book by Frank Trentmann. Over a thousand exciting pages, full of insights about the history of consumption.” [“Was für ein überraschendes, großartiges Buch von Frank Trentmann! Fast 1100 spannende, mit Erkenntnissen randvoll gefüllte Seiten über die Geschichte des Konsums"] Gert Scobel."Dzień Dobry TVN", Poland's most popular morning show You can watch the interview here


Copenhagen, 18 March 2016

Eindhoven, 12 May 2016, keynote to the Social Design Academy

Paris, 16 June 2016, L’empire des biens. Quel renouveau dans l’histoire de la consommation? Roundtable

Cardiff, 2 September 2016, Consuming the Victorians, keynote

Glasgow, 12 September 2016, The Ethics of Consumption

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Names Not Numbers (NNN), Editorial Intelligence, 25 September 2016

Bonn, International Conference on Consumer Research (ICCR), Verbraucherzentrale Nordrhein-Westfalen, 27 September 2016

Florence, European University Institute, 5 October 2016

Lisbon, 21 October 2016

23 January 2017, Jaipur Literature Festival

7 February 2017, Peterhouse History Society, Cambridge

22 February 2017, University of Southampton

25 February 2017, Victorian Day, BBC History Magazine, Bristol

7 March 2017, The Center for Historical Enquiry & the Social Sciences, Yale University, Annual Lecture

8 March 2017, Columbia University

10 March 2017, Mercatus Institute, Washington DCM

30 April 2017, keynote at the Economia festival, Eindhoven

7 June 2017, Saarbrücken Rathaus

8 June 2017, Literaturhaus Hannover

18 June 2017, Festival of Ideas, York

4 September 2017,Rio de Janeiro, CPDA, Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro

22 September 2017, University of Helsinki

11 October 2017, Forschungsstelle fur Zeitgeschicte in Hamburg

12 October 2017, Museum der Dinge, Berlin

24 November 2017, Oxford, the 2017 A B Emden Lecture, St Edmund Hall



"Five Centuries of Stuff”, History Today, March 2016; Read the full article here

"How Humans Became 'Consumers': A History" in The Atlantic, 28 Nov 2016; Read the article here

"Those Wasteful Europeans", The Atlantic, 29 March 2016; Read the article here

"The Material Self", Unlimited, 6 July 2016; Read the article here

"incredible... a terrific read. It is a jungle in the marketplace of our hearts because why we buy the things that we buy is complicated, emotional, and socially-conscious." Book Riot: "Caring for my nest: The Kondo method and Empire of Things"; Read the entire article here

Read the interview with Der Spiegel here


Read the interview with the taz here


Read the Interview with Corporate Knights, the Magazine for Clean Capitalism here

Read the interview with Die Welt here [in German]

Read the interview with the Wiener Zeitung here [in German]

Read the interview with ENORM magazine here [in German]

Read the interview with the Gesellschaft Freunde der Kunste(GFDK) here (in German)


Read the interview with manager magazin here [in German]

Read the Birkbeck Blog with Short Excerpts from the Book here

Shelf Life: read the books interview in the Times Higher here

In his comment article, the Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty asks "Is Britain a nation of debt bingers? History tells a different story": "Trentmann covers 600 years of consumer culture. But he also chucks several bricks into one of the most important debates in politics and economics today. In an age of household budgets and easy preaching about the evils of debt, he shows us how that earlier disdain for poor people getting their hands on too much money lingers on today." Read the entire Guardian article here

Independent – 2500-word extract on the child consumer in "The Big Read": "Hey, little spender"; Read the entire article here

"Why our material world is older than you might believe", BBC History Magazine, February 2016; Read the full article here

"At its best, Empire of Things is a reliquary of stuff, and the myriad causes to which they have been put over time. Trentmann is an endless repository of fascinating factoids, destined to be trotted out at dinner parties or on slow first dates... Trentmann’s massive effort, boiled down to its own hard sell, might argue that consumerism, rather than a monolithic behemoth degrading local cultures and imposing artificial wants on its unwitting slaves, is instead always and ever local, personal and irregular." Saul Austerlitz, The National Read the entire article here

"dazzling" Literary Review

"Studded with surprising examples and illuminating case studies, it's hugely thought-provoking." History Revealed, Book of the Month; Read the entire article here

"a must-read" Mint (India)

"Both in writing and in person, Professor Trentmann...exhibits a knowledge so profound and a manner so exquisite that you could listen to him all day." Ham & High (Hampstead and Highgate Express); Read the article here

"In this informed, detailed, and dynamic account, Trentmann ... investigates how consumption—the acquisition, flow, use, and disposal of things—has become a defining feature of modern lives... Trentmann has created a valuable contribution to the conversation around consumption—a commendable fusion of scholarship and engaging writing." Publishers Weekly

" of the most comprehensive historical surveys of the subject. Trentmann raises provocative questions about whether consumerism is amoral or moral, and how such an assessment should inform the economic, social, and behavioural strata of human civilization. This book is highly recommended." Library Journal

"A wide-ranging exposition of the human life of buying, selling, and trading from the Renaissance until now... A masterly work." Kirkus Review

Read Ed Mayo's blog article on consumer politics and history (6 February 2016): "How we became a world of consumers" Ed Mayo is the Secretary General of Co-operatives UK and was the last head of the National Consumer Council in Britain