Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture

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This monumental work of cultural history was nominated for a National Book Award. It chronicles America's transformation, beginning in 1880, into a nation of consumers, devoted to a cult of comfort, bodily well-being, and endless acquisition. 24 pages of photos.

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Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture

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This monumental work of cultural history was nominated for a National Book Award. It chronicles America's transformation, beginning in 1880, into a nation of consumers, devoted to a cult of comfort, bodily well-being, and endless acquisition. 24 pages of photos.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An extraordinary work of history, imaginatively conceived, thoroughly researched and absorbingly written. William Leach allows us to see the production of mass consumer culture and to see it whole, in its richness and its poverty. It is a fascinating and troubling tale, and Leach tells it with exceptional skill and sensitivity." —Jean-Christophe Agnew, Yale University

"A major reinterpretation of our cultural experience, Land of Desire is a brilliant, evocative, and highly readable study by an original, honest and courageous historian who has seen to the heart of American commercial culture. In a society in debt to the licentious 1980s and unfortunately still attempting to achieve social justice though endless growth, this is required reading."—Mary O. Furner, University of California, Santa Barbara

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From 1880 to 1930, life in the U.S. changed from a society dominated by the work ethic to one ruled by consumer capitalism. In this outstanding cultural history, Leach ( True Love and Perfect Union ) provides a carefully researched analysis of the interaction of power structures that cooperated to produce this transformation. Utilization of new advertising techniques and display artistry by retail merchants such as Philadelphian John Wanamaker created a commercial aesthetic that meshed with a new positivism in mainstream religion. These two trends, together with the emergence of commercial brokers both in and out of government, facilitated a commitment to consumerism as a cultural value that endures today. Leach argues that L. Frank Baum's childhood classic, The Wizard of Oz, and the Oz sequels, were imbued with positive thinking and the idea that possessing luxurious objects could bring happiness. Photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
In an alternate history of modern American life from 1890 to 1927, Leach (History/Columbia; True Love and Perfect Union, 1980) offers an encompassing, learned, and fast-paced account of how entrepreneurs, manufacturers, bankers, clergymen, and government leaders produced a culture of consumers—as well as the rituals, morality, aesthetics, and institutions that identify the good with the goodies, acquisition with virtue. Innovative merchandising—initiated by the great department stores of the 1890's (Wanamaker's, Marshall Field, etc.) and extending in time to hotels, banks, public utilities, service industries, etc.—began with an excess of production: superfluous pianos, lamps, rugs, cheap jewelry, and food. To dispense with the surplus, merchant princes developed a technology of enticement, the arts of display—including posters, outdoor signs, light, color, glass, window trimming, packaging, catalogues, architecture, and, ultimately, an urban geography with entire shopping districts (epitomized in Manhattan in the showmanship of Times Square, the retail establishments of Fifth Avenue, the fashion and garment districts, and on Wall Street, the source of the financing). Beyond the visual were the rituals—holiday seasons, pageants, parades, children's culture—and the escalators and credit-granting through which department stores became democratized. Americans' getting and spending produced a standardization of taste and beauty, as well as colleges for business and design, fashion magazines, hotel chains, and intermediaries—brokers and agencies for everything from models to real estate. In 1932, Herbert Hoover's Department of Commerce and its imposingbuilding in Washington made merchandising part of government—incarnating, as Leach sees it, the ethics and fantasies embodied in the Emerald City of The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum also wrote the definitive text on window trimming). Fascinating, detailed, and evangelical: a yellow brick road full of rare adventures, intriguing characters, and surprising vistas. (Twenty-four pages of photos—not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679754114
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1994
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 462,718
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Land of Desire and the Culture of Consumer Capitalism 3
I Strategies of Enticement
1 The Dawn of a Commercial Empire 15
2 Facades of Color, Glass, and Light 39
3 Interiors 71
4 Fashion and the Indispensable Thing 91
5 Ali Baba's Lamp: Service for Private and Public Benefit 112
II Circuits of Power
6 "Business Runs the World": Institutional Coalitions Behind the New Order 153
7 Wanamaker's Simple Life and the Moral Failure of Established Religion 191
8 Mind Cure and the Happiness Machine 225
III Managing a Dream Culture: 1922-1932
9 "An Age of Consolidation": Goods, Money, and Mergermania 263
10 "Sell Them Their Dreams" 298
11 The Spectacles 323
12 Herbert Hoover's Emerald City and Managerial Government 349
Conclusion: Legacies 379
Abbreviations for Notes 391
Notes 392
Index 487
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2013

    Worth reading

    Excellent, interesting, I learned a lot. This book will help you understand how and why business is so influential in our government.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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