CONSUMING DESIRES by Roger Rosenblatt


Consumption, Culture, and the Pursuit of Happiness
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A learned assault on the present global addiction to things.

PBS and Time magazine essayist Rosenblatt (Coming Apart: America and the Harvard Riots of 1969, A Memoir, 1997, etc.) assembles a stellar cast of contributors to argue against consumerism, the credo exemplified by the obnoxious bumper sticker “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Some of those contributors offer paeans to disappearing virtues, such as thrift and modesty; others tender modest and immodest proposals to reduce our desire for material goods, which Rosenblatt gently calls “a strange basis for a civilization, but an effective one.” In his introduction, Rosenblatt recognizes that he and his colleagues are swimming against the tide. After all, he notes, something like 90 percent of the American workforce is now engaged in making and selling consumer goods and services, from cheeseburgers to computers; and nearly everyone is behaving as if we had all suddenly come into Jay Gatsby’s wealth, a point that Harvard-based social critic Juliet Schor underscores when she remarks, “The new consumerism is...less socially benign than the old regime of keeping up with the Joneses,” less benign because it is both more conspicuous and more closely bound with our notion of who we are, our things having come to serve as markers of social class and self-esteem alike. The essays included in this volume are of universally high quality, and there are some real standouts: William Greider examines our unwillingness to reduce waste and the forces at work against offering high-quality, durable, and affordable goods to all segments of society; Edward Luttwak ponders the new face of American indebtedness, which now, he says, has “reached the unprecedented level of 89 percent of total household income"; Stephanie Mills considers the moral dimensions of excessive consumption in a time of extinction and biological crisis.

Good stuff, this, offering fuel for an environmentalist’s fire, and likely to give marketing specialists a headache.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55963-535-5
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Shearwater/Island Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999


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