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About the Author

Ellen Ruppel Shell is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, National Geographic, Time, Discover, Seed, and dozens of other national publications. She is the author, most recently, of The Hungry Gene, which was published in six languages, and is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Knight Center for Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University.


Atlantic correspondent Shell (The Hungry Gene) tackles more than just "discount culture" in this wide-ranging book that argues that the American drive toward bargain-hunting and low-price goods has a hidden cost in lower wages for workers and reduced quality of goods for consumers. After a dry examination of the history of the American retail industry, the author examines the current industrial and political forces shaping how and what we buy. In the book's most involving passages, Shell deftly analyzes the psychology of pricing and demonstrates how retailers manipulate subconscious bargain triggers that affect even the most knowing consumers. The author urges shoppers to consider spending more and buying locally, but acknowledges the inevitability of globalization and the continuation of trends toward efficient, cost-effective production. The optimistic call to action that concludes the book feels hollow, given the evidence that precedes it. If Shell illuminates with sharp intelligence and a colloquial style the downside of buying Chinese garlic or farm-raised shrimp, nothing demonstrates how consumers, on a mass scale, could seek out an alternative or why they would choose to do so. (July) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Just in time for the current economic recession, Shell (The Hungry Gene: The Insider Story of the Obesity Industry) investigates America's fixation with discount retail prices. Historically, consumers have believed that "buying cheap" was "buying smart," but Shell assembles convincing evidence that our appetite for cheap products has led to an explosion of "shoddy clothes, unreliable electronics, wobbly furniture and questionable food." She points out that the rise of the Industrial Revolution in this country saw the simultaneous rise of mass production, which fostered the aims of early retail pioneers such as John Wanamaker and F.W. Woolworth. Now, with its cheap labor force producing cheap goods for the American market, China is largely responsible for much of the discount boom prevalent today. Ironically, Americans have significantly curtailed their buying, thus impacting retailers and in turn causing enormous problems for the Chinese economy. Shell rightly concludes that "technology, globalization and deregulation have made competition a death march," forcing companies to eliminate jobs, lower quality standards, and depress wages, all with the purpose of creating cheaper goods, resulting in a kind of unending vicious cycle. Verdict This highly intelligent and disturbing book provides invaluable insight into our consumer culture and should be mandatory reading for anyone trying to figure out our current financial mess. As Shell proves, the hunt for cheap products has hurt us all. Highly recommended for smart readers. -Richard Drezen, formerly with the Washington Post/New York City Bureau Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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