Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Consumerisms in World History by Peter N. Stearns

This book started out a bit vague and I was wondering if I should continue pursuing it, but I'm so glad I did. Get 15 pages in and this book becomes excessively interesting.

Here are some tidbits of what I've learned so far: It was only in the early 18th century that people began to be thought of as consumers. Before that there really wasn't access to goods and almost everyone was living hand to mouth. The first consumer goods were salt and sugar. Salt actually had the practical attribute of preserving meat, but sugar was the first actual luxury item. No one needed it to survive, but everyone craved it.

During the French Revolution Parisian workers insisted that they be provided with "goods of prime necessity", by which they meant sugar, soap, candles and coffee. A hundred years earlier and candles would have been the only thing on the list that wasn't considered a luxury. But in that time period novelties became necessities.

Pre-1770 the English didn't mind getting wet. They just walked out in the rain. The French nobles had started mimicking the Chinese by using umbrellas about a hundred years early. This filtered down to the middle class and by 1770 made it's way over to England. But many of the English didn't like umbrellas calling them foreign and effete. The essayist Horace Walpole criticized the French for "walking about the streets in the rain with umbrellas to avoid putting on their hats." A decade later and everyone in England was using an umbrella. In fact, the umbrella began to be considered very English.

Okay, I'm only on page 25 of this book and obviously really enjoying it. More later.


  1. great post.

  2. Thanks! The book is so interesting that I can't remember all off the gems.