Behind the jaunty cover lies a pedestrian account of shopping in America’s past and present.
The first of the five chapters looks briefly at Native American and colonial bartering, peddlers and general stores, and the effect of railroads and manufacturing on shopping. The writing presents facts chronologically with only occasional intriguing details, like the fact that Sears sold more than 75,000 mail-order houses between 1908 and 1940. The next chapters examine the rise and fall of department stores; chain stores from five-and-dimes to big-box stores; the evolution of malls; and online shopping. A handful of sidebars highlights topics like charge cards and mall-related slang, while the attractive design incorporates pullout quotes from books, slogans and celebrities. The many black-and-white photographs, many archival, have useful captions, but most are visually dull. The writing is equally lackluster, with one paragraph starting, “One fun retail trend is the store on wheels,” and the next paragraph, “Another new trend is the small, individually owned specialty shop.” The generally pro-consumerist text touches on credit-card debt and the possible harms of advertising but fails to engage issues like the international labor practices that make goods so cheap or carbon footprints.
An important, potentially fascinating, topic that falls flat. (source notes, bibliography, further resources, index) (Nonfiction. 11-14)