A wide-ranging, anecdotal exploration of modern packaging -- how it developed, how it works, and what it tells us about ourselves. Hine, a cultural critic who writes on architecture and design for the Philadelphia Inquirer and who looked into our recent past in Populuxe (not reviewed) and our future in Facing Tomorrow (1991), sees packaging as a major cultural, economic, and social activity of our time. Packages, he says, are ""communicative containers"" that have come to replace ambiguous, unpredictable, and time-consuming human relationships with carefully calculated expressive messages. He looks briefly at such precursors as a 5,000-year-old beer jar from Iran and glass bottles from ancient Egypt and Rome, but his real interest is modern packaging. This, he tells us, began in London around the turn of the 17th century with patent medicines. Packaging really took off, however, in this country in the late 19th century, and it was the paperboard folding box that made it a mass-market phenomenon. Hine has loaded his text with entertaining tidbits about the packaging of such familiar products as Quaker Oats, Campbell's soup, Coca-Cola, Kleenex, Tide, Marlboro cigarettes, and Wrigley's spearmint gum. Reading his behind the-scenes accounts of how these icons of everyday life evolved is something akin to reading gossip columns about pop stars. However, there's plenty of solid research on how packaging has affected retailing and thus how we shop, how we eat, and, indeed, how we live. Hine's approach is roughly chronological for the first two-thirds of the book, but then he turns to issues of design, psychology, and consumer protection. He concludes, appropriately, with a discussion of empty packages and their impact on the environment. Cultural history for curious consumers -- light and lively and not too filling.