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We live with a lot of stuff. The average kitchen, for example, is home to stuff galore, and every appliance, every utensil, every thing, is compound — composed of tens, hundreds, even thousands of other things. Although each piece of stuff satisfies some desire, it also creates the need for even more stuff: cereal demands a spoon; a television demands a remote. Rich Gold calls this dense, knotted ecology of human-made stuff the "Plenitude." And in this book — at once cartoon treatise, autobiographical reflection, and practical essay in moral philosophy — he tells us how to understand and live with it.
Gold writes about the Plenitude from the seemingly contradictory (but in his view, complementary) perspectives of artist, scientist, designer, and engineer — all professions pursued by him, sometimes simultaneously, in the course of his career. "I have spent my life making more stuff for the Plenitude," he writes, acknowledging that the Plenitude grows not only because it creates a desire for more of itself but also because it is extraordinary and pleasurable to create.
Gold illustrates these creative expressions with witty cartoons. He describes "seven patterns of innovation" — including "The Big Kahuna," "Colonization" (which is illustrated by a drawing of "The real history of baseball," beginning with "Play for free in the backyard" and ending with "Pay to play interactive baseball at home"), and "Stuff Desires to Be Better Stuff" (and its corollary, "Technology Desires to Be Product").
Finally, he meditates on the Plenitude itself and its moral contradictions. How can we in good conscience accept the pleasures of creating stuff that only creates the need for more stuff? He quotes a friend: "We should be careful to make the world we actually want to live in."
Smart and ambitious, cosmopolite journalist Snyder maps the global garment industry, beginning in a New York loft where designers plot a line of ultra-pricy, socially responsible jeans that would ensure a fair wage for workers and not cause excessive environmental degradation. From there she visits cotton growers in Azerbaijan, denim specialists in Italy and factories in Cambodia and China. An excellent reporter, Snyder talks comfortably to both sophisticated designers and factory workers, conveying their very different motives as she paints a picture of an industry far more tangled than most consumers imagine. She notes that economic and employment shifts are felt globally, describing Italy mourning the loss of manufacturing to cheaper factories in Asia, where low-paying jobs represent unprecedented opportunity to many workers. If the prose occasionally verges on cuteness, it's preferable to the jargon of quotas and NGOs ubiquitous in most discussions of global trade. Snyder's investigation is an essential read for those curious about fashion or the globe-spanning business that produces their clothes. (Dec.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information