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Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America
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Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  166 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Listen to a short interview with Giles SladeHost: Chris Gondek - Producer: Heron & Crane

If you've replaced a computer lately--or a cell phone, a camera, a television--chances are, the old one still worked. And chances are even greater that the latest model won't last as long as the one it replaced. Welcome to the world of planned obsolescence--a business model, a way o
Hardcover, 330 pages
Published April 15th 2006 by Harvard University Press (first published April 5th 2006)
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Jan 06, 2009 Ellen rated it liked it

Most economists will tell you that free-market capitalism is the perfect system, but I've never been comfortable with this. The entire system hinges on consumption--constant, unrelenting consumption. As a result, as this book posits, corporations need to make things break or become less desirable so that we'll keep consuming. Slade doesn't really judge, he just gives the facts and the stories behind planned obsolescence. And after about the fourth chapter it becomes formulaic. Personally, I real
Apr 26, 2007 Anna rated it liked it
Recommends it for: curious types
Shelves: nonfiction
Once, a potential housemate I’d never met emailed me a cheery note introducing herself. She was 22, a recent college graduate, she hoped to teach, and one of the three hobbies she listed was “going shopping.”

I laughed. It’s hilarious to me that shopping could in itself be an end. Imagining that people spend their free time by wandering around with no aim but to trade superfluous cash for objects they don’t need is both depressing and amusing.

But it’s only recently that I’ve started to let go of
Jul 10, 2016 Melinda rated it it was amazing
Fascinating stuff. I thought I knew a fair bit about the idea of obsolescence. However I didn't realise that the idea of planned obsolescence started way back in the 1800s with the idea of getting men to shave using a Gillette razor rather than sharpen your own variety

This book looked at obsolescence range of different sides. It looked at the rise of marketing and advertising, shopping demographics, the rise of women's and men's personal hygiene products, computers, e-waste, recycling, nylon sto
Dec 31, 2007 Damon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an uneven book, but a worthwhile read. It opens with a decent historical account of the modern history of planned obsolescence, but loses focus as it moves closer to the present. I suspect the problem is that the current situation has reached proportions that are beyond the scope of this ambitious but ultimately limited book.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Anyone interested in education, the environment, government policy, corporations, innovation and invention, and fads, will get a lot out of this book.

Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America details the beginnings of our consumerist society, our over-consumption, our greed, our near-sightedness. Although written specifically about America - with good reason - the same effects can be seen in any other western country, and most others as well.

In his introduction, Slade says "Deliber
Mar 04, 2013 Jenny rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If you're interested in technological obsolescence, I recommend reading the introduction, first chapter, and last chapter of this book. The chapters in between are well-researched, in-depth essays - essentially case studies - presented chronologically. The writing is clear, and though the book was published in 2006 the problem still looms.


Most engineers in the nineteenth century designed and built their products to last. (31)

"Where man can find no answer, he will find fear." -Norman Cous
Feb 03, 2015 dejah_thoris rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is one of those books that I think everyone in my generation should be forced to read. Although the concept of obsolescence was coined around the turn of the twentieth century, we are only feeling the REAL implications of this economic mindset now. Slade does an excellent job of explaining the development of obsolescence from physical wear to psychological obsolescence a.k.a. style to death dating (not an inherently negative concept) to deliberately planned obsolescence for either economic ...more
Aug 08, 2014 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

The term planned obsolescence was originated in 1932. Bernard London's "Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence" was written in the same year that "Brave New World" was published, and London's description of product obsolescence closely resembled some aspects of Aldous Huxley's work. - ending is better than mending - the more stitches, the less riches (76)

Vance Parkard "The Waste Makers", 1960. (163)

Marshall McLuhan - the medium is the message - whatever the surface content of a
Nov 17, 2012 Drew rated it really liked it
This book provides an interesting (if at times predictable) look at how marketing and social phenomena affects our perception and expectation of consumer goods and their respective lifespans. While Made to Break is a thorough, well-documented cultural study, Slade’s use of historical anecdotes make it exceptionally easy to read. His descriptions of everyone from Henry Ford to Bill Gates bring the men (and women) who shaped our perception of obsolescence to life while giving new dimension to thei ...more
Jul 09, 2008 Tiffany rated it really liked it
This was a good book, but seemed kind of short. I think I expected the author to focus a little bit more on companies purposely making their products die early, and how our waste impacts the environment and the world. Not that the book *doesn't* talk about these things, I think I just expected Slade to drive the point a little bit harder, or have more chapters and more technologies discussed (which would drive the point home harder, too). And the penultimate chapter,"Weaponizing Planned Obsolesc ...more
Aug 20, 2012 Frank rated it liked it
A well-written and quick read which collects a series of examples from the last century and a half to make a portrait of the evolution of consumer goods to its present wasteful status. Perhaps owing to this story format, the work did not delve very deeply into the problems it presented. At no time was a cohesive vision presented. Instead, the reader is left with a handful of disjointed snapshots and the leering feeling that reuse and informed consumption (the closing imperative) are not sufficie ...more
Oct 26, 2016 Brian rated it liked it
An interesting string of anecdotes surrounding twentieth century innovation, loosely orbiting an exploration on the development of planned obsolescence as an industrial norm. Throughout, the author has a habit of straying away from the thesis by delving into the minutiae of integrated circuitry and the political backdrop of the Cold War, winding the reader along on a circuitous narrative that ends with a weak call-to-action absent anything resembling suggestions for a way forward. The storytelli ...more
H R Koelling
Jul 24, 2007 H R Koelling rated it it was ok
I thought this book was more historical than having anything to do with obsolescence. He told some great stories and did some amazing research, but the title does not live up to what the book really discusses, which is just a bunch of historical stories about various products and how they, in some very remote way, might have something to do with obsolescence in our society today. Please, someone write a better book about this subject than this person did. It's a very important topic that needs a ...more
Sep 19, 2008 Rick rated it liked it
Makes a whole hell of a lot of sense. Read the introduction and conclusion if you want to get to the point. The middle is interesting, but a bit fluffy. This is an important book though. The amount of waste generated in America, especially electronic, is astounding and the repercussions, like heavy metals polluting the water supply, scary. The message, reuse, recycle, buy less disposable products. Hard advice to follow as I write this on my flat screen monitor that replaced a perfectly functiona ...more
Justin Gerhardstein
Mar 26, 2007 Justin Gerhardstein rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
"Made to Break" is a definite eye-opener to the world of obsolescence and tech-junkyards. Who ever thinks about where all of those old computers and cell phones go? The book is a compilation, meaning it is not as memorable as something that is written all by one author. Im just glad someone wrote this book so I could have some idea of the massive tech-graveyards that will not stop increasing anytime soon. It makes you think about the values that our culture we want things to break so ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Maria rated it really liked it
A book about the phenomenon of built-in obsolescence which is a common feature of today’s industrial products. Provides insights into the history of (American) industrial products. Disposability is not only a consumer convenience and economic stimulus, but, as it causes overconsumption, also the origin of many environmental and economic problems.
A thought-provoking analysis of conspicuous consumption, the reader learns a lot about industrial moguls, patenting, advertisement, and non-sense innova
Richard Thompson
Aug 14, 2013 Richard Thompson rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Slades major theme is planned obsolescence, and his initial focus is on the huge amounts of electronic waste accumulating in the developed world. Once he introduces the subject he harks back to the beginnings of the automobile industry to put the problem in historical context. Some interesting stuff with a couple curious, seemingly unrelated side-trips. A tad unfocussed. In the end, he offers only a glancing look at how to solve the problem.
Satishwar Kedas
May 10, 2016 Satishwar Kedas rated it really liked it
A radically new perspective on the world of high-tech and innovation. Being a student of MBA, this book has given me the ability to look at the other side of the normal - if our world is driven by efficiency, it could also be said that, our world is driven by obsolescence.
The environmentalist view makes the book a bit opinionated towards the end, but the author has given substantial premises to his claims in the arguments he make.
Justin Liew
Apr 25, 2013 Justin Liew rated it liked it
A collection of varying quality of chapters describing different aspects of obsolescence throughout the last 100 years.

Some of the more fascinating sections were not especially relevant to the overall motivation (for example the chapter about FM radio) an vice versa.

Overall a decent survey that shows that products have been made to be replaced for as long as people realized they needed repeat customers. Unfortunately the end is rushed and there's no sense of a conclusion or a "what now?"
Oct 18, 2007 itpdx rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The sub-title, "Technology and Obsolescence in America" tells what the book is about. The author gives some lively history of how and why technologies have changed including the Model T, AM radio, silk stockings, coin operated electronic games. As well as the consequences of the rapid turnover of cell phones.
Jan 14, 2014 Amber rated it really liked it
Later chapters wander off topic and make the book seem, as many do these days, like a collection of feature-length magazine articles woven together under a single banner or theme rather than a coherent monograph on a single topic. Still, the articles were well written and interesting. So 4 stars out of 5.
Oct 17, 2012 Ro_runner rated it did not like it
I returned this audio book without finishing it. The book is more boring than an overly long law review article. It wanders through the history of the development of various products in excruciating detail & without helping the reader to see how that history supports the author's premise. Add the narrator's sleepy monotone voice & I gave up in chapter 5.
Mary Warner
Sep 08, 2008 Mary Warner rated it really liked it
Giles Slade investigates the history of numerous consumer products that were designed to become obsolescent. The book is an appeal to create items that can be easily broken down and reused, rather than thrown away. I'm a social commentary junkie and this book has a healthy dose of social commentary, along with a fascinating look at product history.
Aug 26, 2008 Suzanne rated it liked it
Reviewed in Prometheus, Book reviews, ed. T. E. Ray.
What we always thought: they deliberately build and design all our stuff to have a limited lifespan. Goes too much into the history of car manufacturing at one point, thereby missing the main point of the title, but worth a read if you're interested in this sort of stuff. Tim breaks my arms if I don't keep grinding out these book reviews!!
Nov 30, 2016 Raymond rated it really liked it
The book is full of great anecdotes and history about how obsolescence became so prevalent in America. I thought it was particularly interesting how he attributed the idea of disposability almost completely to the industrial revolution.
Jan 04, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it
First half is a strong, worthwhile read - for me, it was essentially an introduction to America's industrial development. Second half was pretty meh -- it's been a few years, but I remember feeling like the author lost his traction/focus.
Stephen Davis
Jul 18, 2016 Stephen Davis rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi
This was a very interesting read. When your economy is based on getting consumers to buy more and more, how do you make this happen. Keeping the product lives shorter encourages refresh at the expense of waste disposal. Enjoyed how planned obsolescence has aspects of espionage as well.
Jan 30, 2016 Outmind rated it really liked it

An interesting historical overview of obsolescence. too bad it focused mostly on technology, and at only a handful at that, and not on the mindset obsolesence instilled.
Oct 28, 2008 Misty rated it really liked it
An interesting - and alarming -read. A bit dense with info, but absolutely worth it. Goes through the history of manufacturers need to oversell and how easily America was trained to overbuy.
Apr 06, 2007 Jordan rated it liked it
very interesting look into the history of the structures that have fostered US consumer culture. i recommend it.
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