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Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America Paperback – July 30, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“In this major, learned, and ambitious book, Lawrence Glickman weaves together social, cultural, and intellectual history to show how consumer activism has, since the mid-eighteenth century, waxed and waned but never disappeared. Glickman has an incomparable grasp of the entire sweep of the history of consumer society, and Buying Power is the most influential, wide-ranging, nuanced, provocative, original, and commanding book on the subject in recent memory. It will shape discussions of American political and social history for years to come.”
(Daniel Horowitz, author of The Anxieties of Affluence)

“Between the American revolutionary patriots’ defiant boycott of British tea and today’s pressuring of retailers to sell only fair trade coffee, there lies a long, fascinating, and important history of consumer activism in the United States. Lawrence Glickman marvelously illuminates how Americans time and again have used their purchasing power not for self-indulgence but rather to prove themselves ethical, politically responsible citizens. This book demonstrates that ‘we are what we buy,’ and there is much to make us proud in the history of what Americans bought and what we refused to buy.”

(Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic)

“Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s many of us have been proud to be consumer activists, some in pursuing more serious government regulation; others in mobilizing boycotts and other citizen action. Yet we were never quite convinced that we were part of a great, historic citizen movement such as the labor, civil rights, or peace movements. In one gigantic historic sweep, Lawrence Glickman successfully puts these doubts to rest. Though largely unaware, we were tributaries of a stream of consumer action dating back to the origins of our republic and constantly renewed ever since. More than timely, Glickman’s all-encompassing narrative can now help guide and channel exploding consumer outrage into focused consumer power, from boycotts to demands on legislators to regenerate appropriate governmental constraints and accountability for consumer abuses in and affecting the marketplace.”
(Michael Pertschuk, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and cofounder of the Advocacy Institute)

“Challenging the common association of shopping with materialism and individualism, Buying Power offers a lively, comprehensive, and fresh history of the consumer as citizen. Glickman deftly leads the reader from the revolutionary-era embargo of British tea to the bus boycotts to combat segregation, showing how Americans have used consumer power politically and how consumer activism relates to the modern interest group politics of the consumer movement. This is a timely book that deserves a wide audience.”
(Gary Cross, author of An All Consuming Century)

"In his impressively researched Buying Power, Glickman reminds us that consumer activism 'has been a consistent and long-standing element of American political culture,' extending back to the 18th Century. . . . [Buying Power is] a rich, provocative, and—given the explosion of consumer activist campaigns in recent years—timely study whose insights into the successes, failures and meanings of consumer activism its practitioners would do well to consider."—Eric Arnesen, Chicago Tribune
(Eric Arnesen Chicago Tribune)

“A sweeping reinterpretation of American history.”—Daniel Scroop, Journal of American History

(Daniel Scroop Journal of American History)

"An excellent history that sits comfortably among the very best of the books that have been produced on American consumer society over the last two decades."

(Journal of Social History)

“Glickman helps us reconsider how people in history have seen themselves as embedded in a material and political world, how they envisioned themselves as economically and morally linked to distant others, and therefore how they could imagine themselves as potentially able to effect change in the world.”

(Nan Enstad Labor)

"Lawrence B. Glickman's long-awaited volume surveys the social movements animated by and through consumer actions. Consumers today routinely ponder the ethical implications of their spending for workers, the environment, and the national or local economy. Yet the myriad movements that seek to influence spending all have long and subterranean histories. Glickman's book offers a powerful account of the ways American consumers have organized to influence spending for political and social ends from the Boston Tea Party until today."
(American Historical Review Charles F. McGovern)

About the Author

Lawrence B. Glickman is professor of history at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226298671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226298672
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By K. Beals on March 18, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was purchased for a history class. While the information is helpful and interesting, Glickman's vocabulary is distracting. He seems to enjoy using words that are rather rare and elaborate, instead of more common vocabulary. This requires the reader to stop and find the definition before continuing the reading. Please note, my professor even warned us about Glickman's vocabulary when the class began, and it's become a sort of game in the class to find the most ridiculous word used in a chapter. Also, Glickman tends to take several pages to come to a point and becomes redundant. Did I really need to read twenty pages about free stores in the 1820s? No. I got the message after about five. Reading the book is a chore.
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0 of 8 people found the following review helpful By ROROTOKO on October 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Buying Power" is on the ROROTOKO list of cutting-edge intellectual nonfiction. Professor Glickman's book interview ran here as cover feature on October 26, 2009.
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