New York Times Book Review
Virtually all human activity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries comes in for scrutiny in this compact and insightful book.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this splendid account of our society in this century, Green ( Light of the Home ) traces the minute changes that, as they accumulated, shook the underpinnings of the ``American Way'' of life. He examines the subtle effects of the confusing choices available in the contemporary marketplace (the Model A Ford, by contrast, was available in just one shape and color), and the gradual changes in the labor movement, the work ethic, education, concepts of sex and marriage, the practice of medicine, reading habits, scientific and technological advances, sports and pleasure. Pressed by the plethora of uncertainties these transformations produced, a ``sanitized vision'' of American history ``became a mooring for many Americans,'' yet their idea of the nation as a chosen people in a promised land ``precluded their ability to comprehend that their culture and the world were changing at the very moment they wished--and assumed--history would stop.'' Green's voice is calm and detached, his material is rich and colorful; his approach is original; the impact is powerful. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Aug.)
The author, chief historian at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York, finds that technological innovation transformed the nation in the 1915-45 period, leading to a growing personal uncertainty in Americans' lives. New methods of production increased consumption; under-consumption and selective prosperity, he argues, led to the Depression. Advertisers worked to persuade consumers that newly created social ills could be cured, but only by using a certain product. Advances in electrical appliances promised the housewife more freedom, but scientific studies questioned the foods she served her family. Green has filled his exceptionally readable work with the minutiae of everyday life, from frozen foods to Superman comics, using these material things to illuminate broader aspects of American culture. This fifth volume in the series will be useful to social and cultural historians.-- Deborah Hammer, Queens Borough P.L., New York
From Schlereth (American Studies/Notre Dame): a detailed, lively survey of the commonplace objects, events, experiences, products, and tastes that comprised America's Victorian culture, expressed its values, and shaped modern life. Between the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and the San Francisco one in 1915, the US population doubled, redistributed itself, and developed the character and lifestyle identified with the middle classes in the 20th century. Its mobility required roads, trains, trolleys, maps, canals, autos; new means of communication in telephones, telegraphs, and mass media; and a standard time devised by railroads and measured by alarm clocks, time clocks, and cheap watches. New economic systems emerged: farms were commercialized; foods were processed (Kellogg's), condensed (Borden's), preserved (Heinz), distributed in food chains (A&P), promoted through advertising, and identified with brand names and slogans. New occupations emerged; typewriters created secretaries who cultivated new standards of personal appearance wearing shirtwaists, using cosmetics, shopping in department stores, and visiting beauty parlors. Toothpaste, razor blades, health foods, and spas expressed the rising interest in personal fitness as well as recreation, which extended to moving pictures, spectator sports, public gardens, amusement parks, and bicyclesall based on the new technologies, on the new vision of people mastering nature. But the book is not all trivia, not just the Juicy Fruit gum and the cafeteria-eating that Americans discovered at the San Francisco Fair. Schlereth, a writer of immense tact and range, recounts with equal interest and vitality the wholeconstellation of events that surrounded the development of suburban living, domestic history, the labor movement, the architecture of collegesand conveys it seamlessly. The notes reveal something of his erudition, his ability to see the relationships, to depict unpretentiously this complex period of cultural history with all its ironies and color. A splendid achievement. (Forty-three pages of photographsnot seen.)