Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement.
Editor Stephen Brobeck and his associate editors Robert N. Mayer and Robert O. Herrmann are to be commended for their exceptional and insightful creation, Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. In its depth, breadth, scholarship, and readability, this volume will be considered the standard reference source for many years. With nearly 200 contributions from academics, activists, and state and federal officials and regulators, in entries ranging from Action for Children's Television to the Yugoslavian Consumer Movement, this Encyclopedia encompasses both historical analysis and synopsis of contemporary issues and activities. Rather than attempt to detail the vast scope of the volume in a few short pages, this review will highlight some of the significant facets of the book, facets that demonstrate its range and comprehensiveness, and its usefulness.
The entries vary in length from one page or so, such as Packaging Protections and Self-Regulation, to several-page, in-depth studies, such as Food and Drug Administration, Journalism, Consumer, and State and Local Consumer Organizations. As these examples suggest, the topics are diverse. Some essays deal with specific institutions or persons; thus, there is extensive coverage of organizations like the Center for Public Representation and the National Consumers League; analyses of the careers of pivotal leaders, such as Ralph Nader and Esther Peterson; and examinations of governmental agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Other entries are more thematic, focusing, for instance, on fights for consumer protection in the areas of Cosmetic Safety and Telephone Regulation. While reflecting issues that have been important to the consumer movement for more than a century, the volume does not neglect emerging concerns, such as Privacy Regulations and Women as Consumers. For the latter topic, the volume's index notes other pertinent entries as well. Of course, in a single volume some of the reader's favorite topics are bound to be slighted. It is especially unfortunate that there is relatively little attention paid to ethnic and racial minorities. However, the entries describing consumer affairs outside the United States are particularly innovative; thus, the reader can learn what factors are shaping consumer movements around the globe in areas as diverse as Albania, Hong Kong, and Latin America.
Though the primary intention of these entries is descriptive, most authors go well beyond the simple recitation of names and dates. Academic authors, such as Monroe Friedman in his essay on Boycotts, Consumer and Robert O. Herrmann and Robert N. Mayer, in their entry, U.S. Consumer Movement: History and Dynamics, use this Encyclopedia to highlight conclusions based on years of research. In other cases, activists and partisans, such as Mark Silbergeld's article on Federal Trade Commission and Rhoda H. Karpatkin's article on Consumers Union, provide their unique perspectives. This variety of approaches creates an uneven volume, but, most significantly, it prompts readers to further study.
The format is extremely user friendly. But it is the volume's structure and the editors' attention to detail that make this volume most significant and worthwhile. Each of the entries ends with suggested further readings that will enable and encourage readers to go beyond the Encyclopedia. Moreover, the entries are not presented in isolation. Most are extensively cross-indexed. For example, the entry State Attorneys General directs readers to several other pertinent entries, including Deceptive, Unfair, and Unconscionable Sales Practices and State Utility Consumer Advocates. The entry Travelers' Rights suggests that readers also look at Airline Deregulation and Aviation Safety. In addition, the extensive index can alert readers to other entries germane to their interests.
Most people will not read this volume from cover to cover. It is meant as a reference tool, and it is an admirable example of that, one that should serve as a model for similar encyclopedias. This reviewer, for example, used it to great effect with undergraduate students searching for term-paper topics in a history of consumer movements course. In the fall 1998 issue of Advancing the Consumer Interest, Robert N. Mayer published an intriguing article on the role of women in the consumer movement that utilized several of these entries. Beyond these focused activities, however, Encyclopedia of the Consumer Movement is to be savored as a doorway into a fascinating area of general interest.
Admirably comprehensive, yet highly readable, this volume deserves a wide audience. It is unfortunate that the cost will deter many from owning their own copies, but it should be on the shelves of university, college, and public libraries. The Encyclopedia will be useful to all who want to learn more about the role of the consumer in the market, historically and today. This reviewer unconditionally recommends this volume and urges the publisher to consider a low-priced paperback edition in the near future.