This collection of essays by an all-star roster of social critics takes a skeptical look at American and global capitalism on the eve of the 21st century. Some of the contributors, such as William Greider, are downright pessimistic: "If the world is to save itself from ecological disaster, the redemption cannot begin among the poor," he writes. "Only the wealthy few--that is, nations such as ours--have the power and the wherewithal to rescue us all from the impending consequences of mass consumption on a global scale." Most of the other essayists treat mass consumption as a mixed bag. Novelist Jane Smiley, for instance, notes that consumerism fed feminism by inventing appliances, phones, and cars--and freed women from domestic chores. "There is much talk of the emptiness of modern life, but think of emptying chamber pots of the accumulated waste products of seven or eight household members every day for the rest of your life," she writes. These pages are full of good writing and smart observations. Bill McKibben, for example, suggests that "instead of defining ourselves by what we buy, we define ourselves by what we throw away." Other contributors include Alex Kotlowitz, Edward Luttwak, and Juliet Schor, as well as editor Roger Rosenblatt. All told, Consuming Desires
is an eclectic mix of thought-provoking essays on the culture of materialism. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Individualism and desire, declares essayist and author Rosenblatt in his introduction to this collection of new essays by an array of distinguished writers, "are what make us great and... small." Most of these pieces address the contradictions inherent in our need to consume, our concepts of individuality and our position in the global economy. Rolling Stone correspondent William Greider hopes for a radical reconception of capitalism, in which the environmental cost of waste is factored in. Juliet Schor, author of The Overspent American, notes that consumerism is fueled as individuals use television programs, rather than neighbors, as points of reference. Journalist Alex Kotlowitz traces the tenuous link between fashion in the ghetto and the suburb. Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben acknowledges the irony in his desire to "consume nature" free of alteration by pesticides. New Press publisher Andre Schiffrin points out that the corporate pursuit of profit has stymied the substantial nonfiction of a generation past. Novelist Jane Smiley argues that consumerism rescued the American housewife, but can hardly be a global solution. While one solution here seems PollyannaishASuzanne Braun Levine's hope for an alliance between news consumers and news gatherersARosenblatt acknowledges that easy reform is difficult. Rather, he suggests that "a search of the self" might provoke us to seek balms from human connection rather than consumer goods. He may be right, but for many Americans, self-knowledge, like any consumer product, is best consumed in small, well-packaged doses. (June)
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