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FROM amassing sacred relics to collecting celebrity memorabilia, the impulse to hoard has gripped obsessive collectors for centuries, and the author, a Paris-based journalist, takes readers on a bizarre tour of collectors and their treasures to try to answer the question as to what drives people to possess objects they do not use.

The tour includes the manic monarch Peter the Great, whose dominant passion was seeing houses burn, and his collection of oddities and freaks, including living exhibits like Foma the Dwarf and the hermaphrodite who was paid an annual stipend of 20 roubles and who ran away from gawking onlookers, plus the skeleton of Peter’s personal footman, as well as 30 rooms of curiosities including a display of teeth that Peter had pulled himself.

On through the macabre art of embalmer Dr Ruysch, Randolph Hearst’s riches and treasures amassed to demonstrate his power, we come to our very own Robert Opie and his collection of 500,000 pieces of household packaging and household ephemera.

This is sparkling writing about collecting, whether it’s on a big scale or just old football stubs or train tickets from around the world. They are, says Philipp Blom, “shrines to different pasts, escapes from the present, assertions of individuality, of longing and of hope”.