Category Archives: Reviews

Excerpts and links to reviews

“A one-book-fits-all approach to holiday giving” — The New Yorker books blog, The Book Bench

On Dec. 3, In Cheap We Trust got a smart and sassy write-up on The Book Bench, the books blog of The New Yorker. Here’s what writer Vicky Raab had to say about ICWT:

“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”—Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”

In the economically dispiriting spirit of the year that also honors the need to prop up the publishing industry, I suggest a one-book-fits-all approach to holiday giving, entitled, “In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue,” by Lauren Weber (980 rupees in India; $13.99 (used) on Amazon). Most of us will find ourselves and our loved ones somewhere in the pages of this penny-wise and bullion-foolish discussion about Americans’ attitudes toward thrift —bargain-hunting, thrift-shopping, dumpster-diving, or (you know who you are) calculating the savings on three-hundred-dollar boots amortized over a five-year period.

Weber, formerly a staff reporter for Reuters and Newsday—whose father, in the now fashionable, even ecological “turn down the thermostat” parlance of thriftiness, was a cheapskate, tightwad, skinflint, frugal—writes from a historical as well as a personal perspective: “I tell the story of cheapness and thrift as a subjective, lived experience and also as an idea, one that has meant different things to different people over the course of our history. At certain moments, it has been proposed as a panacea for sin, luxury, moral corruption, poverty, alcoholism, marital discord, war, and urban vice and depravity. At other times, like the present, it’s been blamed for recessions and for choking off the consumption needed to keep the economy chugging along.”

So gather round the yule log (but don’t light it; put on a sweater), peel away (then recycle) the wrappings on matters of getting and spending, and discover that what made us cringe as children is, at least while the progressive recessionary flame flickers, a perfectly virtuous all-American gift for the ages.

A “splendid, timely history,” says Library Journal

Hopefully you’ll now be able to find In Cheap We Trust on the shelf at your local library. Here’s what Library Journal had to say about the book:

This splendid, timely history and apologia corrects any misplaced nostalgia for a simpler, thriftier age. Business journalist Weber demonstrates that, from the Puritan settlers to today’s economic stimulus measures, America has endured continual cycles of thrift and consumption, an endless battle for behavioral dominance between saving and spending.

Among expected topics (wars, the Great Depression, industrial advances, and the explosion of consumer credit), she makes interesting forays into the origins of savings banks, the field of home economics, and the checkered history of National Thrift Week. The final third of the book includes a macroeconomic argument for increased savings and a collection of chapters on the voluntary simplicity and freegan movements, the psychology of frugality, and suggestions for learning the art of thrift. While this may seem a bit of a mishmash, the book is thematically consistent and convincing.

VERDICT: Weber manages, with panache, to combine a socioeconomic historical exploration that is readable and fun for the lay reader and a thoughtful defense of frugality that doesn’t succumb to preachiness.

“Cheap might set you free,” says Salon’s review of ICWT

Laura Miller wrote a thoughtful review of ICWT for Salon.com. Here’s an excerpt, and here’s the complete review.

A good cup of tea is more precious to me than it is to Weber, as is the time it takes to find nice clothes in secondhand stores. Something tells me she doesn’t buy paper towels, either, but I could be wrong. If she does, I refuse to judge her. All we ask of the rest of you is that you get off our backs and take a moment to reflect. The money you spend on paper towels could buy you a latte. The money you spend on lattes could buy you a restaurant meal. The money you spend on restaurant meals could buy you a pair of designer shoes. And the money you spend on designer shoes, as one pop culture icon realized to her chagrin, could buy you an apartment. Now: Consider the possibility that cheap might set you free. And, for crying out loud, put on a sweater.