Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Preface

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pp. xi-xvi

My SUBJECT is the material life of Americans. I am concerned with their bonds to the things around them-houses, art, food-and the ways those things are produced and consumed. Often they are so immediate, so worldly, that they escape the analysis reserved for literature, yet their very worldliness connects them directly to the society we live in. My approach to the subject is to describe things in...

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1. Grasping Things

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pp. 1-22

TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES people respond quickly with words, but the objects they grasp have more lasting things to say. The object derives power from its fixity. More stable than speech, the object attracts inspection by many senses, especially those of touch and sight. Differences appear in the priority of senses in modern mass society and...

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2. Entering Things

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pp. 23-86

"WHO DOES NOT REMEMBER the interest with which, when young, he looked at shelving rocks, or any approach to a cave?" Henry David Thoreau asked in 1854, reporting his experience in Walden. He had come to the woods to reflect on the things that a man can build and use to gain nature's blessing. In the childhood of life, he mused, as in history, one entered caves: "From the cave we have advanced to roofs...

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3. Making Things

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pp. 87-159

WHY BOTHER making things? Today, you can order almost anything, it seems, ina choice of colors and styles from a department store, catalogue company, or central warehouse. The thing is ready-made without delay, and with cash the transaction is "over-and-donewith." You never face the capricious craftsman. You know what you're getting and you can easily replace the thing. Every year we have new...

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4. Consuming Things

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pp. 160-210

RALPH WALDO EMERSON'S CLAIM of1860 that in America "every man is a consumer" was balanced by his self-reliant idea that every man "ought to be a producer." But although the man who made things seemed to be less evident, signs ofconsumption were ever increasing. What was being produced was wealth with which to buy wares and services. The widely circulating book...

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EpiIogue

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pp. 211-216

I MADE my observations, wrote my stories, and wondered if events that followed would change things. Turtle soup still sells briskly at church picnics in southern Indiana. Meanwhile consumption of folk art adds plates to its feast. Americana (January-February 1985) spreads on its pages an advertisement of a porcelain plate collection of Mattie Lou O'Kelley, "the South's greatest folk artist." The first...

Notes

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pp. 217-239

Index

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pp. 240-247

Photo Section

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pp. 248-255