Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy by James A. Roberts (HarperOne, $25.99, 368 pages)
“The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated.” – H. L. Mencken
Author James A. Roberts is a professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. There’s no doubt that he knows of what he writes. In some ways Shiny Objects is similar to The Man Who Sold America by Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur Schultz, and Shoptimism – Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What by Lee Eisenberg. Among them, the three books capture a wide view of the marketing tricks, human weaknesses and buying trends that are behind the urge to attain the American dream.
Shiny Objects is clearly written for readers in the USA. Author Roberts tailors what could easily be just another self-help book into a person-centered experience complete with memorable quotes at the start of each chapter (such as the one posted above). He includes graphs, charts, sidebars and illustrations that enliven the very serious subject – compulsive acquisition that most folks cloak in the guise of the pursuit of the Great American Dream.
There is a strong interactive presence in many chapters that gently allows the reader to respond to the questionnaires that are designed to reveal personal tendencies, proclivities or urges related to material possessions and their appearance – which is, sadly, a false one – of granting happiness.
There is some original research associated with the writing of the book as well as numerous well-annotated references, data and quotes. Roberts also references his survey of other researchers’ research on consumption/consumerism.
The marketing classes at Baylor presented by Dr. Roberts must be very popular given his smooth conversational style and ability to weave useful strategies through his narrative. Perhaps this book, which is highly skeptical of the marketing practices in this country, is his way of offsetting the marketing skills he teaches in his college classes. This quote makes the point: “The primary goal of this book is to make the argument that lasting happiness lies outside the consumer realm, beyond the shiny-object ethos.”
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Shiny Objects was released on November 8, 2011, and is available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download. “Shiny Objects is ultimately a hopeful statement about the power we each hold to redefine the pursuit of happiness.” Amazon
Readers who find this book interesting may also want to consider Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Vintage, $15.95, 336 pages) and Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 315 pages).