The Well Spent Book Club: Consumed

In Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, author Benjamin Barber follows up on issues he raised in his 2005 book Jihad vs. McWorld, particularly the connection between culture and the ugly, dangerous side of capitalism. According to Barber, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Maryland, contemporary consumer culture is not only soulless and manufactured, but a force that will undermine democracy if left unchecked. Barber is an academic and not a journalist, and unsurprisingly, the book is grounded in theory, from the Protestant ethic and Karl Marx, to Max Weber and the entrepreneurial cheerleader George Gilder. Yet, the intended audience is clearly the mainstream reader, and the bulk of Barber’s chapters are filled with anecdotes and plain language. The message is clear: modern capitalism is dangerous and requires moderation, but in our culture of “carnival consumerism”, there are very few prospects for doing so. Read more »

The Well Spent Book Club: Fugitive Denim

In her book, Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade, author Rachel Louise Snyder defines Globalization as a “subversive ecosystem,” composed of many, many complex interdependencies. However, instead of trying to strip away that complexity, Fugitive Denim is an attempt to elucidate it with an extended, hyper-detailed case study. By tracing the arc of something so commonplace that it may as well be the global uniform – blue jeans – Snyder, an investigative journalist by trade, gives us a powerful lens through which to see globalization as people, places, and processes, rather than some abstract concept we vaguely understand. Read more »

The Well Spent Book Club: Cheap

The new running shoes my UPS guy delivered a couple weeks ago were $119.99. A screaming good deal given their original $160 retail price, right? Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture forced me to reconsider a lot of things – including the fact that I have no earthly idea what a pair of running shoes should cost, and therefore, no real idea whether $119.99 (down from $160) is a good deal, a ripoff, or somewhere in between. Read more »