Review of ‘Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge’ by Lindy Woodhead

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.

7 thoughts on “Review of ‘Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge’ by Lindy Woodhead”

  1. Wow, I loved watching the TV show and this book sounds like something a really want to read 🙂 I have to say I did used to enjoy visiting some department in my local town, when I was a teen, that have shut since the recession. There were one or two one-off department stores (I think) and featured a lot of different items from brands I’d never heard of. I don’t live there now but that town’s department stores have almost all disappeared, apart from Debenhams, in favour of Primarks, poundlands and betting shops :/

    1. I didn’t actually see it on TV, but I found the book in a charity shop and thought it looked interesting as I like social history 🙂
      Yes, I suppose department stores are on their way out generally, now that the internet is like one big department store. There isn’t one in my town either, in fact a lot of shops are shut in my town now and the high street is mainly where people can bet, buy vapes, fast food or discount toiletries!

      1. Kind of sad to see high streets going this way 🙁 I have to admit that it’s mostly Amazon and other online places that I buy stuff that can’t be bought in a local supermarket/local small shops though so I’m guilty of letting it happen, but only because there’s no other shops sellling stuff anymore. :/

        1. That’s the problem really… when you can’t find what you want on the high street. Also where I live there is a fairly new out-of-town retail park which has diverted the shoppers and caused some big names to pull out of the high street.

          1. That’s a shame, but it’s probably the future. High Streets (as we knew them) will one day go extinct! 😮 I’ve heard the council where I live is already thinking of turning one big empty shop space into flats.

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