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The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness Paperback – September 7, 2004
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“A brilliant analysis ... After reading The Substance of Style, the world will literally look different to you.” (Steven Pinker, Professor, MIT, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate)
“A profoundly important book. The topic is absurdly under-studied; and Postrel has turned in a magnificent performance.” (Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence)
“[Postrel] connects a million seemingly disparate dots into a fresh, clear-eyed, persuasive picture of our culture circa 2003.” (Kurt Andersen, author of Turn of the Century)
“What a great read! It will heighten your awareness of our newly sculpted aesthetic world.” (Karim Rashid, designer)
“A work vast in its range, profound in its depth, rich in its detail.” (Robert Venturi, architect)
“Marvelously informative…Brightly argued…Even when Postrel’s examples are familiar, the specifics can be eye-popping.…It’s groundbreaking.” (Atlantic Monthly)
“Virginia Postrel . . . writes perceptively about everything on which her penetrating gaze alights.” (George F. Will, Washington Post)
“Provocative. . . demolishes the false dichotomy between substance and style.” (Washington Post Book World)
About the Author
Virginia Postrel writes an economics column for the New York Times and is the author of The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress. She lives in Dallas, Texas.
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What’s more, Postrel does more than simply note examples of the spread of design. She also makes an argument against the view, widespread during much of the 20th century and before, that presentation is somehow frivolous, secondary, unimportant, detrimental to social equality, or dangerously deceptive in some way. I won’t try to recap her argument here, but to me, the book is persuasive; even before I read it, reviews that I read contributed to changing my view of the entire subject.
I would’ve enjoyed seeing some illustrations inside to match those on the cover. It’s worth noting that Postrel’s most recent book, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion (published in 2013), includes many graphics; this probably illustrates the march of the design imperative that she’s discussing in The Substance of Style. Nonetheless, Postrel’s writing is clear and evocative on its own; you’re in no danger of missing her point.
Also, the anecdotes are certainly interesting and varied, but they don't seem to advance a central premise. Unless I read the book wrong, they just serve to illustrate that we are seeing more interest in style over the past 20 years as technological advances have made so many things ubiquitous and cheaper. Great, but what should we do with this information? I would like to have seen that question answered. I don't mean checklists (which I despise), but how will this help the average reader? If this were a sociology book, then I probably wouldn't have bought it. Instead, the book doesn't really seem to answer the question inferred by its subtitle "How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness." I figured that it was a business book and it really isn't, in my humble view.
This isn't a bad book and Postrel is a gifted writer. I just had some different expectations when buying the book.