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

by William R. Leach
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 6, 1994 0679754113 978-0679754114 1st Vintage Books Ed
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 + Consumer Society in American History: A Reader + Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This NBA nominee is an outstanding cultural history of America's turn-of-the-century transformation into a nation of consumers.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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 imposing building 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) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (September 6, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679754113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679754114
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, scholarly, beautifully written August 23, 1998
Format:Paperback
Ostensibly a history of the department store in America, this book is a revelatory primer for those wishing to understand the origins and growth of the culture of comsumerism in the United States. As Leach convincingly documents, consumerism is an artificial, carefully crafted construct clearly traceable to particular people and places in our history. Their paradigm of consumption, Leach further shows, is one that has come to consume American culture in general--and, increasingly, world cultures beyond it.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book March 27, 2010
Format:Paperback
I don't think I've read a better non-fiction work. The prodigious research is presented in a continuously diverting way. The evolution of Salesmanship in its many forms is explored in colorful depth: floor design, window design (Who knew that until the 1930s "all the show windows at Marshall Field's were covered on Sundays out of respect" for the founder's religiosity?), classified ads, mail-order catalogues. The paradigmatic figure of John Wanamaker is presented vividly and multi-dimensionally; anecdotal details along the way illuminate a whole period of American history I'd paid only scant attention to before. Thank you Mr. Leach, you've started a whole new reading list for me! In fact, my only criticism of the book is the lack of a bibliography. There are book (and journal and letter and interview) references among the copious footnotes, but no single list. The research Mr. Leach did is obviously staggering. How many of us have read "The Dry Goods Economist" or "The Show Window" - the latter founded and edited by L. Frank Baum -? This is a work animated by both a dedication to the highest principles of scholarship, and a passion for the subject that is (in my case at least) contagious.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting November 9, 2008
Format:Paperback
I found Leach's book very insightful and interesting. He thoroughly dissects and explains the history and creation of consumer culture in the U. S. during the 1880s-1920s. Every avenue involved in consumer culture is discussed in this easy to read text.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story, not enough analysis June 6, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
W.R. Leach writes about the beginning of consumerism in the U.S. around 1910/20. He writes with much verve about his theme, which makes the book an ageeable read.
But for my taste the book is somewhat short on analysis. For example: there is much talk of the connection between selling and religion, but if this connection was by random or if there were some deeper links is left open.
If you are new to the subject of this book and you want an interesting read: get it. But be aware, the answers for a lot of questions this book poses are not to be found here.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and relevant August 31, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very well done. Informative, engaging, a pleasure to read; and all too relevant to our own times. This is a very satisfying, as well as thought-provoking read.
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