Top positive review
LARSON HITS IT ON THE HEAD
Reviewed in the United States on April 24, 2015
THE NAKED CONSUMER
Having just read “Dead Wake,” Erik Larson’s latest blockbuster, and having consumed each of his previous novels, I ran across his very first book, a nonfiction account of how companies spy on the consumer. I was curious as to how Larson would report on my least favorite social activity. He handled it with remarkable aplomb.
Published in 1992, when Larson was a free-lancer living in Baltimore, it’s a book he claims to love, although apparently no one else did. It is not the booming hit his later novels have become, but I liked it and believe that the consumer, even more put upon now by sleazy marketing than when Larson wrote the book, would find it mesmerizing and should read it.
Larson, in his clear and precise reporting, tells us how tax dollars have enabled marketers to find us, zero in on our secret wishes, and persuade us to buy things we don’t need. We are all on lists that help companies locate us, determine what we are patsies for, and how to make us empty our pocketbooks. The US Census, as have many other public agencies, although confidentiality is promised, has given immense amounts of information to companies that exist to sort through, quantify, and assemble data into lists that identify every person in our country by name, address, ethnicity, economic wealth, living condition, household makeup, religion, and any other characteristic that’s usable in determining vulnerability to marketing schemes...and to make a great deal of money doing so.
This book is complex and mindboggling. To me it is also infuriating. I’m not some naïve dolt who thinks I exist in a vacuum, safe and secure in my cocoon of privacy. But Larson has opened my eyes to an irritating conspiracy that, while seemingly harmless, is a pervasive intrusion into privacy. Areas of my personal activity, the value of my home, credit limits on my charge cards, bank account balances, access to my passwords, PIN numbers and, perhaps my preference in underwear are all fair game to these scavengers, information I insist is none of their business.
It never entered my mind that a little innocuous viewing window, the scanner at the checkout stand, could also pass on so much information about me. Combined with the frequent shopper card information I willingly passed out in exchange for gasoline savings, money bonuses, and premiums, it itemizes the commodities I purchase, screens, scores, analyzes the results, and digs deep into my existence. Huge corporations lust for this information.
The information here is dated because of when it was written. I suspect that public infuriation at privacy invasion, manifest in the 1990s, is even greater now. Larson is urging us to recognize that privacy is indeed an inalienable right and that those charged with our protection must do so with dogged resolve.
Schuyler T Wallace
Author of TIN LIZARD TALES