So Much Stuff: How Humans Discovered Tools, Invented Meaning, and Made More of Everything (Hardcover)

So Much Stuff: How Humans Discovered Tools, Invented Meaning, and Made More of Everything By Chip Colwell Cover Image

So Much Stuff: How Humans Discovered Tools, Invented Meaning, and Made More of Everything (Hardcover)


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How humans became so dependent on things and how this need has grown dangerously out of control.
Over three million years ago, our ancient ancestors realized that rocks could be broken into sharp-edged objects for slicing meat, making the first knives. This discovery resulted in a good meal and eventually changed the fate of our species and our planet.
With So Much Stuff, archaeologist Chip Colwell sets out to investigate why humankind went from self-sufficient primates to nonstop shoppers, from needing nothing to needing everything. Along the way, he uncovers spectacular and strange points around the world—an Italian cave with the world’s first known painted art, a Hong Kong skyscraper where a priestess channels the gods, and a mountain of trash that rivals the Statue of Liberty. Through these examples, Colwell shows how humanity took three leaps that led to stuff becoming inseparable from our lives, inspiring a love affair with things that may lead to our downfall. Now, as landfills brim and oceans drown in trash, Colwell issues a timely call to reevaluate our relationship with the things that both created and threaten to undo our overstuffed planet.
Chip Colwell is an archaeologist, former museum curator, and editor-in-chief of SAPIENS, a digital magazine about anthropological thinking and discoveries. He is the author and editor of twelve books, including the award-winning Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Product Details ISBN: 9780226801421
ISBN-10: 022680142X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: November 6th, 2023
Pages: 304
Language: English
"Colwell, too, argues that it’s time to rethink our ties to the material world. But Colwell is an archeologist, and, as such, he takes a longer view. In So Much Stuff, he seeks to explain how Homo sapiens went from knapping chert to ordering granite countertops. What happened, he asks, 'that led our species from having nothing to needing everything?' . . . The industrialized world was built out of mountains of sand, iron, and copper, and it cannot operate without vast quantities of these or other materials. Colwell traces the problem back even further. Our special talent as a species is our ability to refashion raw materials—first rocks into tools, then, eventually, quartz into integrated circuits. We are, he suggests, Homo stuffensis, a creature 'defined and made by our things.' We should change our ways—we must change our ways—but this long history is against us."
— New Yorker

"The book ends on one of its strongest points: the honest, personal account of Colwell’s attempt to streamline his material life and get rid of things and how the system of things we live in defeated it. This account does not solve the dilemma the book poses, but it highlights it in ways that will resonate with most readers. Ultimately, So Much Stuff provides an engrossing introduction for nonexperts into the big questions of material culture studies."
— Science

"In So Much Stuff, Colwell takes readers from that genesis in eastern Africa to Hong Kong, New Zealand, Europe and, excitingly, to Denver’s dump. It’s probably no surprise that he found stuff everywhere he went."
— Denverite

"After Colwell’s engaging account of scattered developments over huge stretches of time, much of it drawing on archaeological finds, the third panel in his triptych covers much more familiar territory—the world as reshaped by capitalism and industrial production, with everything that happens doing so at a manic pace.  . . . It’s an engaging book, and the photographs of artifacts are occasionally stunning. . . . Colwell makes an observation that may prove as memorable as Carlin’s monologue: he defines hoarding as 'an animal instinct that is often veiled in humans by what some consume and insist on keeping and what others consume'—and then store in a landfill."
— Inside Higher Ed

"Since this is the season for accumulating and giving so much new stuff, this is the perfect read. Archeologist Colwell does an entertaining and expansive dive into how humans evolved into diehard consumers (hint: that transformation began almost three million years ago)."

"Chip Colwell presents us with a history of humanity’s ever-growing desire for possessions, together with the looming catastrophic results."
— inews

“Humans have too much stuff, and it is breaking the planet. Colwell brilliantly relates how and why we got here. Weaving an engaging, and fun, narrative through deep history and across societies, he describes our intense relations to the stuff we make, dream about, and accumulate. And most importantly, he offers us a path to more just, equitable, and sustainable lives with our stuff (and each other).”
— Agustín Fuentes, author of "Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being"

“In this engaging and personal exploration into the world of things, Colwell reveals the very stuff that makes us human. Eminently readable, So Much Stuff takes us on a journey around the world, examining everything from stone tools to fast fashion, and asks how we became attached to so many things and whether we’ll ever be able to survive without them.”
— Lynn Meskell, author of "A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace"

“Colwell gives us a fascinating, beautifully written, and provocative history of how humans acquire possessions, or, as he describes it, ‘stuff.’ His journey takes us from human origins to today, with a glance at the future, where, he says ‘our story with stuff goes on.’ This is a notable, and at times humorous, essay on the excesses of consumerism since prehistoric times, of relevance to all of us, rich or poor.”
— Brian Fagan, coauthor of "What We Did in Bed: A Horizontal History"