Cloth $29.99 ISBN: 9780226664354 Published October 2020
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A History of Cheap Stuff in America

Wendy A. Woloson


Wendy A. Woloson

416 pages | 11 color plates, 105 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Cloth $29.99 ISBN: 9780226664354 Published October 2020
E-book $29.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226664491 Will Publish October 2020
Crap. We all have it. Filling drawers. Overflowing bins and baskets. Proudly displayed or stuffed in boxes in basements and garages. Big and small. Metal, fabric, and a whole lot of plastic. So much crap. Abundant cheap stuff is about as American as it gets. And it turns out these seemingly unimportant consumer goods offer unique insights into ourselves—our values and our desires.

In Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America, Wendy A. Woloson takes seriously the history of objects that are often cynically-made and easy to dismiss: things not made to last; things we don't really need; things we often don't even really want. Woloson does not mock these ordinary, everyday possessions but seeks to understand them as a way to understand aspects of ourselves, socially, culturally, and economically: Why do we—as individuals and as a culture—possess these things? Where do they come from? Why do we want them? And what is the true cost of owning them?

Woloson tells the history of crap from the late eighteenth century up through today, exploring its many categories: gadgets, knickknacks, novelty goods, mass-produced collectibles, giftware, variety store merchandise. As Woloson shows, not all crap is crappy in the same way—bric-a-brac is crappy in a different way from, say, advertising giveaways, which are differently crappy from commemorative plates. Taking on the full brilliant and depressing array of crappy material goods, the book explores the overlooked corners of the American market and mindset, revealing the complexity of our relationship with commodity culture over time.
By studying crap rather than finely made material objects, Woloson shows us a new way to truly understand ourselves, our national character, and our collective psyche. For all its problems, and despite its disposability, our crap is us.
Review Quotes

"Woloson is the kind of history professor who makes a subject come alive. . . . In Crap, Woloson expertly combines her interest in popular Americana with her expertise in American economic history to create an interpretation of consumption in America that is as compulsive and propulsive as our consumption habits themselves."

Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing and Buying In
“We’ve heard all about the magic of the marketplace, the power of capital-backed innovation to improve lives. We hear less about the astounding amount of crap that results—and that we consistently embrace. But Woloson has rightly recognized this as an important subject, and she goes deep into the surprisingly long history of America’s appetite for the cheap, shoddy, dubiously marketed, ephemeral, and sometimes outright useless stuff that’s such a familiar part of everyday life we barely think about it. The book isn’t a jeremiad, or a Marie Kondo–style advice guide, but a thoughtful and surprising examination of the flip side of our seemingly sparkling material culture. Woloson takes crap seriously and shows us why we should, too.”
Marita Sturken, author of Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero
“A fascinating look at the history of cheap commodities in America and the ways they have been marketed, sold, and consumed. Woloson examines gadgets, giveaways-gifts-swag, ready-made cheap collectibles, novelties/jokes, with some terrific mini case-histories of businesses such as Woolworth’s Five and Dime, Hummel figurines, and Beanie Babies. Crap elucidates the central role that cheap goods have played in American consumer culture.”
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