How the Ordinary Became Extraordinary
Distributed for Reaktion Books
How the Ordinary Became Extraordinary
Amato examines the common facts and occurrences in lives from all spheres, whether of a pauper or a noble, a criminal or state official, or a lunatic or a philosopher. Such facts include basic aspects of human existence, such as play, work, conflict, and healing, as well the logistics of survival, such as housing, clothing, cleaning, cooking, animals, plants, and machines. Tracing core historical developments like efficiency of production and greater mobility, Amato shows how we became modern in everyday ways. He explores how, paradoxically, commerce, technology, design, industrialization, nationalism, and democratization—which have so undercut traditional culture and have homogenized, centralized, and secularized masses of people—have also profoundly transformed daily life, affording citizens with materially improved lives, individual rights, and productive and rewarding expectations.
A wide-ranging account of lives throughout history, this book gives us new insights into our own condition, showing us how extraordinary the ordinary can be.
224 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2016
History: General History
"Bursting with observations, moving between the abstract and the concrete, and embracing both prose and poetry, the book itself is a product of a certain vision of everyday life. Amato makes generalizations only to contradict them, and he makes no bones about citing favorite sources while ignoring others. He refuses, in other words, the standardizing norms of the historical profession."
American Historical Review
"Amato offers a bold historical account of daily existence across the ages. Beginning with societies of scarcity and ending with our own twenty-first-century lives, he ranges widely through topics as varied as walking and the charm of spices, and through time from early agriculture to mechanization and the modern urban existence. . . . [A] challenging and thought-provoking introduction to change and continuity in daily life."
Bulletin of the Social History Society
“Amato makes a compelling case for exploring the complex history of everyday life. Drawing on an amazingly broad range of historical, cultural, anthropological, and literary sources, Amato pays keen attention to the interplay of place, landscape, and ‘things’ on human experience and imagination. Like his previous books, Everyday Life richly rewards the reader. It is a unique, reflective, and provocative essay that honors the richness of human life in all its variety.”
Donald Yerxa, Eastern Nazarene College
“This book combines impressively wide reading with a sense of how life was and is composed. Amato ranges widely through topics as varied as dirt and muck, walking, and the charm of spices, and through time periods from early agriculture to mechanization. The result is a thought-provoking introduction to change and continuity in daily life.”
Peter Stearns, George Mason University
“In Everyday Life, Amato reflects on the complex and changing textures of everyday life, beginning with societies of scarcity and relative lack of change and ending with Amato’s own American life of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A work of wide-ranging erudition, it nonetheless offers food for reflection to the everyday reader today, for it lays out how life—even in the very recent past—differed from life in present-day societies of abundance and of seemingly unstoppable change.”
Allan Megill, University of Virginia
Table of Contents
1 Bodies and Things
2 In a Place at a Time, with Changing Orders and Rising Spires
3 Many Times Makes Many Minds
4 Of Things and Selves I Sing
5 The Mechanizing of Work and Thought, and the Acceleration of Life and Individuality
6 Inventing Our Ways and Designing our Days
7 Compounding Minds
Conclusion: The Poet’s Field