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Possessed Reviews

Possessed by Bruce Hood

Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need

Bruce Hood

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 29 Aug 2019
ISBN: 9780241409954
3 stars out of 5
21 Sep 2019

"This book is most fascinating where it reports on psychological research and biological experiments to show just how hard-wired our material self is. "

For all its insights, the book also shows the limitations of a psychological approach. The human brain might make us inherently acquisitive, but what and how much people acquire has changed fundamentally over time. Buying an ancient vase is different from buying a brand new car or from being a lover of fast fashion. It was modern societies that placed a new value on novelty and opened the door to the ever-faster arrival and disposal of stuff. The enormous, unprecedented tsunami of stuff today has its roots in cultural and economic changes, not neurons.


2 stars out of 5
Steven Poole
17 Aug 2019

"[a] colourful study"

Possessed’s political argument is the familiar one that, in an age of global heating, we need to get off the hedonic treadmill of shopping-led overproduction. Unhelpfully, though, it conflates the acquisition of objects with wealth (not every comfortably-off person is a hoarder), and fails to distinguish between classes of object that it might be more or less admirable to purchase... Laudably, Hood does cite evidence even where it undermines his general argument. The lately fashionable theory that buying experiences, such as holidays or restaurant meals, makes people happier than buying things is, he shows, true only for the relatively rich: poor people are happier with more stuff. Other evidence suggests that “owning luxury goods produces a sense of well-being”, and general “life satisfaction” does reliably increase with wealth. Hood takes pains to distinguish such satisfaction from happiness, which is a term he uses uncritically until the very end of the book, when he suddenly (and rightly) declares that modern society’s focus on happiness – a fleeting and contingent emotion – is misplaced anyway.