Harry Gordon Selfridge (1856 – 1947) was a fascinating man. Excellent at business, ambitious, he led an extravagant lifestyle. He worked hard and played hard. This book is partly a biography of the founder of Selfridges department store in London, and partly a social history.
The writing style is not too academic, although the content is based on research (including the extensive Selfridges archive) and there are sources for each chapter. I found it easy to read and mostly engaging my attention. Although it was interesting to know who Selfridge partied with, there was a little too much name-dropping of celebrities and the aristocracy for my taste.
The majority of the book is set during the later years of Harry’s career, as this is when he founded the shop after gaining experience in America. He was a great showman and a lot of descriptions are devoted to the fantastic window displays, rooftop events, bold marketing strategies and stunts which he masterminded. Historical context is also given to the trends and changes in society which retailers needed to adapt to. Modern fashion, new materials, radios, aviation, drugs, gambling and the effects of two World Wars are all explored.
I liked this book even though I avoid department stores. Originally published in 2007, a new edition was produced to tie in with the ITV drama in 2012.