Philadelphia magazine columnist Hine (The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, 1999, etc.) presents a witty and informal history of the way people shop.
In nine thematic and overlapping chapters, Hine discusses marketplace behavior from ancient Greece to his local Wal-Mart during markdowns. “Power” explains how traveling to a store and purchasing a few gifts demonstrates the ability of an elderly person to feel important to her family: The power to possess luxury items displays the owner’s personal authority and is reminiscent of mythological heroes seizing a sacred object. In “Responsibility,” Hine points out that despite demographic changes in the workplace, women are still the primary shoppers, even buying 75 percent of NFL logo-ed gear. Hine quotes an anthropological study showing that a woman’s trip to the market parallels an ancient sacrifice. “Self-Expression” and “Attention” offer a history of markets from the Greek agora through large medieval fairs and on to modern trends, when things like ready-to-wear clothing and fixed prices freed consumers from dealing with annoying salesmen and the anonymity of large stores with appealing arrays of new selections can make shopping an enjoyable activity (online shopping, with the exception of eBay, failed to provide an equivalently stimulating variety of new items). In “Celebration,” Hine shows how Christmas has become the huge shopping event that it is: Easter, with the Resurrection, is the chief Christian holiday, while Christmas has become a domestic celebration of joyful birth. The Northern European tradition of tree worship adopted by Queen Victoria spread to America, and Santa Claus has ballooned into a super manufacturer with low-rent Arctic space and a better overnight service than Fedex.
Casual and cheerful, with interesting nuggets scattered about. (20 b&w photos, not seen)