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Pursuing Happiness Paperback – January 22, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this quirky, entertaining and brief survey, Wesleyan University economist Lebergott targets high-minded critics of American consumerism with a detailed analysis of how spending has changed over the century. Debunking Thorstein Veblen's conclusions in the 1920s and '30s, he suggests that the rich of the past--and also today--account for only a small portion of national consumption. Time, not income, has been the greatest constraint on consumers, he observes, describing how packaged food, mass-produced clothing and household appliances have changed daily life. Criticizing Juliet Schor's The Overworked American (1991), he argues that Americans actually lead much easier lives than simple-living primitive people. Tracing the consumption trends of this century, Lebergott offers intriguing details: the increase in spending for food is attributable mainly to restaurant meals, as well as the higher consumption of meat, bakery products and sweets. Some of his observations are debatable, e.g., his suggestion that the American hospital system is superior to those of Great Britain and Canada.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In the Declaration of Independence Americans are guaranteed "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In this scholarly work the author traces this pursuit of happiness by examining what we choose to buy. Part 1, which is a kind of expanded essay, discusses what influences American consumers. In the course of this examination, Lebergott (economics, Wesleyan Univ.) looks at advertising, consumption inequalities, the influence of health and children on consumer behavior, and the change in the work of women and its effect on buying. Part 2 of the book reviews statistics on spending for food, housing, lighting, automobiles, recreation, medical care, and other specific items such as clothing, alcohol, and tobacco. Lebergott's work is an entertaining and enlightening insight into consumer behavior. Recommended for informed readers.
- Judith Nixon, Purdue Univ., W. Lafayette, Ind.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Legacy Library
  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 22, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691025991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691025995
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,190,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Donald J. Boudreaux on September 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Stanley Lebergott has earned a reputation as one of America's foremost economic historian. He is a first-rate economist; he writes beautifully and cleverly; he is learned; and his subjects are germane.
PURSUING HAPPINESS is a terrific book. Lebergott reviews the history of consumption opportunities under capitalism. Like Julian Simon, and Mike Cox & Rick Alm, he finds that the material well-being of ordinary Americans has skyrocketed during the 20th century. To compare American living standards at the close of the 20th century to those at the beginning of the 20th century is to discover an explosion of wealth so vast that we who today enjoy this astonishing wealth can scarcely imagine what life was like for our ancestors of just 100 years ago.
Today, we have many more things -- and much more time (both because we live longer and because we have more leisure), improved health, greater learning, and a richer menu of entertainments. Lebergott shows also that capitalism has been especially good for the working classes and for women. For example, he documents the extraordinarily burdensome and time-consuming tasks that nearly all women 100 years ago did routinely to keep their households running. Today, almost all such tasks are farmed out or mechanized. (In one of his many brilliant lines, Lebergott notes that "By the 1980s, only a handful of hippies expected their womenfolk to haul water from the brook or well.")
No one who comments upon the course of the American economy should be without this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Keenspoon on June 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Actually had Stan the Man as a professor at Wesleyan - frankly a bit on the dry side - but always full of fascinating facts and information. And he was always willing to chide the "life was better 100 years ago" nonsense.

As a writer and economist he is GREAT and this book is so clear and full of smart common sense thinking it is scary to think that for a lot of people it is full of revelations that challenge the group think. If you like economics and history you can't miss this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul & DJ on May 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable, concise, easy to read and to the point overview of the dramatic improvement in the lifestyle of Americans over the 20th Century. If I were to recommend just one book on the subject this would be it.

The book is divided into two parts: 1)Economic Well Being, dealing with various consumer topics such as the effect of consumption inequality, advertising, choices consumers make, the improvement in buying power for an hour's work and the decline in housework hours leading to the entry of women into the labor force. 2) Major Trends deals with various consumer sectors such as food, housing, clothing, transportation, health care, etc. and adds seldom covered subjects like the diffusion of public water supply and the decline in deaths from various infectious diseases.

There are ample tables of data and numerous references.

This is one economics book that was actually fun to read.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved reading this book, I loved teaching this book. Lebergott had his own style of writing economic history that is NEVER DULL. Pursuing Happiness reminds you that all those house appliances that some writers look down on (looking at you, ghost of JK Galbraith) made our life better. Electricity is safer for lighting than open flames. Automatic washing machines and indoor plumbing made women's lives easier. And most of that stuff now takes up a much smaller share of income. Sorry, doomsayers. But caves in federal land can still be yours, if you kick the bears out first.

It is a minor unfairness of life that Princeton let this go out of print. Surely with POD technology it could be brought back and I could teach out of it again. My students need to read Stan Lebergott, and soak up some of his wisdom and joie de vivre, although they don't know that yet. Come on Princeton University Press, get with the beat.
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