Natural Born Shoppers

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Lead Us Into Temptation:
The Triumph of American Materialism

By James B. Twitchell
Columbia University Press, 310 pp., $24.95
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Near the end of the book, Twitchell reveals that he drives a Mazda Miata—indeed, that he succumbed to the Japanese manufacturer's ad campaign, which invests the undistinguished little car with the aura of a legendary British racing vehicle. You can imagine how uncomfortable this might make him, among the insular academic Volvo crowd of Gainesville. Having admitted that he himself prefers sizzle to steak, he is eager both to defend his weakness and to project it onto others. Lead Us Into Temptation is strongest when Twitchell's considerable wit works in harmony with arcane, irrefutable facts to buttress his thesis. Too often, however, Twitchell's reasoning resembles sniping at a faculty dinner party. When, for example, he dismisses the Voluntary Simplicity movement, a fad that involves supplanting material possessions with more abstract, often spiritual ones, as "appealing to those for whom simplicity is a preexisting mental condition," the reader cannot help but be amused by his sarcasm. Yet one wonders why he feels so threatened by people cutting up their charge cards. Is he in earnest? Or just desperate to show that his sly, nimble sports car can outperform his colleagues' boxy Scandinavian clunkers?

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