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Publisher's Summary

What we consume has become the defining feature of our lives: our economies live or die by spending, we are treated more as consumers than workers and even public services are presented to us as products in a supermarket.

In this monumental study, acclaimed historian Frank Trentmann unfolds the extraordinary history that has shaped our material world, from late Ming China, Renaissance Italy and the British Empire to the present. Astonishingly wide ranging and richly detailed, Empire of Things explores how we have come to live with so much more, how this changed the course of history and the global challenges we face as a result.

Frank Trentmann is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London, and directed the £5 million Cultures of Consumption research programme. His last book, Free Trade Nation, won the Whitfield Prize for outstanding historical scholarship and achievement from the Royal Historical Society. He was educated at Hamburg University, the LSE and Harvard, where he received his PhD. In 2014 he was Moore Distinguished Fellow at Caltech.

©2016 Frank Trentmann (P)2016 Audible, Ltd

Critic Reviews

" 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." ( The Times)
" Empire of Things is something to behold; a compelling account of consumerism that revels in its staggering breadth and depth. Frank Trentmann has written a necessary and important book about one of the defining characteristics of our times." (Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, winner of the Whitbread Prize; and A World on Fire)
" Empire of Things is an extraordinary, Braudelian achievement. It is impossible to imagine that any one person would be able to do a better job than Frank Trentmann." (John Brewer, author of The Pleasures of the Imagination, winner of the Wolfson History Prize)

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What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

truly informative

What made the experience of listening to Empire of Things the most enjoyable?

Technically, no glitches, smooth audio and comfortable tone of voice that did not put me to slep!

Who was your favorite character and why?

not appicable

Have you listened to any of Mark Meadows’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

no

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

if possible, definitely...alas, I have a job, lol.

Any additional comments?

These types of books, on society, economics and even politics and power, are not read enough. I highly recommend that our citizenry start learning about what not only makes our world turn, but what makes is come to a screeching halt. You can start with this book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Love it

Love the book. Comes through as very well researched and written. Would have loved to read more about the developing world consumption trends. That said, it still offers an interesting glimpse.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Yhatze
  • Kansas City, MO
  • 11-20-17

It's not a nail-biter, but worthy of listening

The entire world needs to listen to this as I feel that it is a much needed wake-up call to the unsustainable pace we all are a part of. If you have ever exchanged money or bartered for a product or service, then you need to listen to this.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • ELMONT, NY, United States
  • 03-09-16

An exhaustive attempt to get the story right

Ultimately a story absent key chapters such as the rise of Spain, Portugal and the that ultimate consumer product money, or in this case gold, silver and spices.It's a story told from the myopic Anglo American academic view that just gets it all wrong.Perhaps because we have become a shadow financial capitalist empire he could not see the forest for the trees.

11 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Wras
  • 03-07-16

Reflections on what we own and how it owns us.


An amazing book that explores history and countries from a consumers points of view, revealing a lot more about humanity than I would ever have expected. It is like putting on the most unusual filter or tinted colour glasses and seeing a world makedly exposed to its desires and wants removing morality and political agendas to show how even the most powerful of ideologies bend to the will of its consumers and how that feeds all our need and inequities, driving us into the constant need for the new, the better, the bigger, the more powerful, the thing that declares who we are, our status or our lack of it.

An exposition of how we have grown in apatites, and how we have acquired those things we value and at what cost to us and to those that provide them. How this items have changed our society and brought change to others in the farthest corners of the world.

Explaining the conundrum of a consumerist communist China, the fall of the eastern block by the disillusionment of the masses in not being able to acquire like other societies and pushing for change for freedom to buy the same toys we buy.

It reveals the different points of views and morals different societies have had on lending and how it has grown to such a degree it threatens the very system that created it, while being the lifeline to many of our wants and the force behind industry and construction.

A must if you are interested in history and humanity, it will remove a lot of preconceptions and will reveal the consumer in all of us; buy this book, you need it you want it.

20 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Eoin
  • 03-13-16

essential reading

A wonderfully informative and scary book that explodes many modern myths about the society in which we live. A history designed to focus the debate where it needs to be, on our own collective behaviour.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonimo Nonlodico
  • 03-08-16

Disappointing and shallow

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I wouldn't. There are much better books on the subject.

Was Empire of Things worth the listening time?

No, I quit half way through.

Any additional comments?

Get Geoffrey Miller's Spent instead. Much better, more interesting, deeper and better written too.

12 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Abigail
  • 02-05-17

Like listening to a long boring list

Would you ever listen to anything by Frank Trentmann again?

The author just seemed to endlessly list things as they happened through history, there didn't feel like there was a narrative flow or anything interesting beyond stale facts.

What didn’t you like about Mark Meadows’s performance?

Performance was fine, it was the dull lifeless content of the book that I couldn't cope with

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Boredom at the long list heavy content that just seemed to wander on and on

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • m
  • 01-20-17

massive in depth discourse

Huge volume of material left me speechless. The depth of factual information and sheer amount of it makes this an extravaganza of knowledge!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Michelle
  • 05-16-16

Fascinating listen, good dipper

This is a long book, that's a good thing. Each chapter introduces a series of stories about stuff that I knew little or nothing about. Entertaining in themselves, each chapter had me saying to myself, 'Wow, I never thought of it like that.' Overall they build into a connected whole but you don't have to keep it all in your head to enjoy it. The author doesn't preach or politic.

Mark Meadows' voice is so soothing I often fell asleep listening. He's not boring at all, he just carries me away on the words. Sleep timer means I just skip back ten minutes the next morning and all is well. I find only the best readers have this effect. (Mr Meadows needs to read more novels please, not just crime & thrillers.)

9 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Teresa Cooper
  • 06-21-16

Consumers world.

Lots of information and facts about humans and their need to "have things". And in the final few chapters the need to get rid of or recycle our goods. A tough listen and the next time I listen to this title I'll take it in smaller chunks and listen to another book in between.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-02-18

alternative view

well argued view of economic history from the perspective of consumption and the consumer not production. questions some accepted norms

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Isla
  • 01-19-18

Too long and detailed

Too many lists of what was bought. The book is too detailed which makes it very long. I never finished it as got bored.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • kevinsuperstar
  • 08-29-17

A detailed history with importance for our lives.

This book was at times facinating but others, excruciatingly dull. It is a well written and expansive history that examines the social factors and implications of consumption. After the first chapter I thought I might find the content a heartbreaking indictment of consumer society and my own lifestyle, but the author manages to discuss the difficulties of consumerism without vilification.

You may not enjoy every minute or be swept away, but it is a worth your time to read this.