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A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America Hardcover – January 21, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Now that Lizabeth Cohen's new book has been published we can see that those reasons were misguided. This is a thoroughly documented book that is unusually scrupulous in the attention that it pays to problems of class, gender and race. Cohen starts in the thirties, looking at consumer movements and boycotts, and at two differing ideas of the consumer. One is the "citizen consumer," who is the hero of the book, the consumer who protects his (and very often her) rights and does not placidly accept what businesses deign to give them. The other, more prominent, consumer is the Consumer as Purchaser, the Keynesian consumer who stimulates the economy by his purchases. We then go to the war, and see how the government sought to limit price increases with the help of citizen cooperation. We learn about the many female volunteers, while we also learn that African-Americans, who most needed it, got the least help and the least employment with the OPA. Then we go to the postwar world where, despite popular support, Congress abolishes the OPA. Meanwhile the new consensus, the GI Bill, and the boom of suburbia promise a brave new world of abundance for all, or almost all.Read more ›
In the Acknowledgements, Ms. Cohen explains that this impressive book was written over the course of ten years. Her thesis profited from audience feedback at numerous college lectures and presentations she made during this time and with able assistance from a number of talented student researchers. With over 400 pages of text and 100 pages of notes, the book represents a remarkable achievement and is a testament to Ms. Cohen's intelligent use of the academic research process.
Ms. Cohen is in top form when she chronicles the struggles of women and African-Americans to assert their rights in what she calls the "Consumers' Republic" of 1945 to 1975. The author provides background material by documenting how a variety of bread-and-butter consumer issues mobilized millions into action from the Depression through WWII. Ms. Cohen then shows how power gained by women and minorities through their contributions to the war effort later found expression in the Civil Rights, women's liberation and other movements of the 1950s and 1960s.
However, Ms. Cohen explains that policy makers in the aftermath of WWII were influenced and corrupted by, among other things, unparalleled levels of corporate power and ideological rivalry with the Soviet Union. Mass consumption was seen as a solution to help keep manufacturing profits high and was propagandized in order prove to the world that the U.S.Read more ›
So the book is a kind of grab bag of the USA's post-war social problems, often using the author's home state as an example. At times, she seems on the verge of dissecting New Jersey as Mike Davis does Los Angeles (high praise from me), but never quite sustains such a level. For example, there's a fascinating account of how policies of "upzoning" were used to create homogeneous suburbs of large, expensive, detached houses. But when explaining how this led to racial polarization - - in an era of supposed desegregration - - she can only show us the 'after' map, not the 'before'. However, the use of photos, advertisements, and newspaper cartoons is exemplary: often amusing, sometimes shocking.
Towards the end of the book, the author finds it necessary to expand the concept of "consumer" to "consumer/citizen", and finally to "consumer/citizen/taxpayer/voter": a clear sign of a dead end. On the final page, her vision is vague and feeble: we "could reinvigorate the liberating aspects of the purchaser" and "could seek to reverse the trend toward the Consumerization of the Republic by not shrinking from articulating the important things that only government can do". Hardly a programme of action. But maybe that's too much to expect.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Lizabeth Cohen is my new found hero. Read the book. I am half way through so I cant comment fully. So far it make me understand why although I hate landfills. Read morePublished 7 months ago by perrberr
Required reading for suburban architectural history students but it's a slow read.Published 13 months ago by Sharon Karpinski
This book is a fascinating history of our consumer habits in the US. It makes me think alot about my own consumer ideas and the consumerism of the society I live in today, based... Read morePublished on March 8, 2013 by Ozzie
This is full of interesting information, written in an academic style that is slower reading than the made-for-general consumption books. But definitely worth it.Published on January 5, 2013 by J. Raymond
There are many wonderful aspects to Cohen's history of post-war consumerism. The writing is terrific. Read morePublished on October 31, 2012 by wayne roberts
"A Consumers' Republic" is one of those kinds of books that exists on the premise that it illuminates some previously unknown phenomenon. Read morePublished on August 31, 2005 by Twain
I defer to the thorough review titled "Consumption and Greed" below for a synopsis of this book.
The subject matter of "A Consumers' Republic" is engrossing and the book... Read more