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The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business Hardcover – July 21, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lichtenstein (Walter Reuther) offers a comprehensive if dry discussion of Wal-Mart—the world's largest private sector employer—and its place in the changing global economy. The author covers the company's rise from a group of tiny rural Arkansas stores to an enormous international entity, plagued by equally enormous problems: accusations of widespread sexual and racial discrimination, a history of dodging minimum wage law and unemployment claims, union-busting, destruction of smaller companies, chronic employee theft and bad publicity following the discovery of goods produced by child laborers. Though Lichtenstein speaks with bemused awe of Wal-Mart's omnipresence in commerce and culture, advanced logistics system and evangelical background, the message is that Wal-Mart—whose eerie motto Our long-term strategy is to be where we're not—has gotten too large and unwieldy to support its own weight. While it serves well as a primer on the company many Americans love to hate, the distant tone and ponderous detail will not help this book stand out from the rank and file of Wal-Mart exposés. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A terrific book... Lichtenstein does a beautiful job of putting Wal-Mart in its historical context... A definitive account not only of Wal-Mart’s past but also of the forces shaping its future.”
Los Angeles Times
“Offers penetrating insights… Lichtenstein sheds valuable light on the technological reasons for Wal-Mart’s success… and provides a detailed look at the dark side of the company’s employment practices.… As Lichtenstein argues, Wal-Mart may have done more than any other American institution to undermine labor regulations.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Surely the best account we have of Wal-Mart’s metamorphosis from a backwater chain to the nation’s dominant corporation... The rise of Wal-Mart, and the national economy it has shaped in its image, is a story that Lichtenstein is eminently suited to tell.”
The American Prospect
“Usefully comprehensive… The Retail Revolution offers the best account yet of the myriad problems that Wal-Mart employees endure.”
The Big Money
“Comprehensive socioeconomic history… Lichtenstein paints a convincing portrait of a multinational conglomerate willing to dehumanize people in the pursuit of profit, even as it tries to convince us that people are its No. 1 concern. A definitive survey of Wal-Mart and the company’s worldview.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Nelson Lichtenstein has written the book on Wal-Mart. You can read it as a sober indictment of the rogue company that happens also to be the world’s largest corporation. Or you can read it as a brilliantly reported case study in what’s gone wrong with the American—and the global—economy. Either way, you will read it, as I did, with complete fascination.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
“America’s wisest historian of business and labor has produced a masterpiece of reportage and analysis about the self-service country store that grew into the biggest merchandiser in the world. The Retail Revolution is far more than the best book ever written about Wal-Mart. It is a landmark work about the history of our time.”
—Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
“This lively yet incisive account of Wal-Mart, one of our era’s most important economic institutions, challenges the claim that the company has been a boon to the U.S. economy, providing a thoughtful and much-needed perspective on inequality and insecurity in modern America.”
—Sanford M. Jacoby, author of The Embedded Corporation
“Lichtenstein’s calmly critical book sets the rise of Wal-Mart within its broader historical and cultural context, adding a valuable new perspective to the often fraught debate over the role of the world’s largest retailer.”
—Jonathan Birchall, U.S. consumer correspondent, The Financial Times
“Nelson Lichtenstein is the paramount authority on the world’s largest and most influential company, one that affects the lives of nearly all Americans and has transformed traditional business. In The Retail Revolution, original research and a profound understanding of American capitalism combine to produce a vivid account not only of how Wal-Mart has changed society, but how society in turn is now changing Wal-Mart.”
—Ron Galloway, director of Why Wal-Mart Works
“Readers wishing to grasp the brave new world of Wal-Mart in all its dimensions can’t do better than Nelson Lichtenstein’s engrossing and chilling account.”
—Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books (July 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805079661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805079661
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Lichtenstein's book is both a compendium of Wal-Mart's various sins on our work force, tax system, and local economies, as well as a polemic. People who have followed Wal-Mart's genius in logistics and their squeezing of employees and suppliers will find little that is new, but will appreciate how Lichtenstein has pulled together a useful history of the company, which highlights some of its lesser known successes, like reducing inefficiencies and costs in the supply chain. As a polemic, the book runs out of gas at the end and he could have done a better job of discussing Wal-Mart's possible futures and what may happen to retail labor. The main subtext here is that Wal-Mart has always done its best to undermine labor rights and to avoid compliance with labor law. They occasionally have improved the wages of some of their hourly employees, such as truckers, but generally they have led the race to the bottom, in terms of retail wages. An important point in the book that deserved more space than it was given involved the paltry amount of profit margin that it would take to raise Wal-Mart wages and benefits to those of more generous competitors. Similarly, it's evident that the public subsidizes Wal-Mart's prices through social welfare benefits to underpaid employees and tax breaks for the construction of new stores. Also is evident is Wal-Mart's willingness to lose enormous amounts of money in unsuccessful foreign ventures and to spend money on public relations ventures such as recent efforts to "go green". The chain seems willing to do anything to appear progressive except recognize unions or, until recently, make any meaningful strides in the areas of wages or benefits.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas are home to 750+ branch offices of Wal-Mart's largest vendors; P&G alone has a staff of more than 250 there. Another nerve center of its global supply network is Guangdong Province on the southern coast of China. There you'll find more than 15 million migrant workers and tens of thousands of export-oriented factories. GDP in the region leaped from $8 billion in 1980 to $351 billion in 2006, while the population jumped 20X. Ten percent of its output goes to Wal-Mart. Besides low costs, China's attractiveness includes a stable currency, fast customs-clearance and loading (half the time as L.A.), and supportive government.

Lichtenstein begins with Walton's early retailing experiences, including the frustrations at higher-ups that would not support his push for self-service and discount retailing. Confident in his thinking, and after observing early moves in that direction (eg. E.J. Korvette, etc.) Walton struck out on his own and opened his first store in 1962 using money from his wife's parents.

Other early innovations included phasing out jobbers, mandating use of bar-codes (faster checkouts, easier inventory tracking), satellite communications (faster communications with Bentonville, faster credit-card approvals), strict prohibitions against accepting gifts from vendors, going to electronic ordering.

Walton liked to recruit managers internally (76%), from the military, churches, college graduates who were members of "Free Enterprise" groups on campus. Demands were harsh - constant improvement, and even in the booming 1980s, 10-155 of all managers were demoted each year. (The goal was to increase staff by less than the increase in sales - not as hard as it might seem, given inflation.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Unlike most books of this genre, the chapters actually add to the understanding as opposed to just repeat the same argument over and over again. Lichtenstein shows how Walmart developed and then preceded to shape the market for retail and grocery shopping, and by extension, to the distribution and manufacture of goods. Most of the impact has been negative, if you are not a free market capitalist, that is.

But this is not a crucifixion of the retailer. It shows how Walmart resisted unions in the US (but not so effectively in other countries), how it has resisted decent health care and wage increases (however, that's shifting as its growth decreases and it realizes that its own employees can't afford to shop at their stores). Walmart has an incredible amount of power in the retail market and has wielded to its employees detriment.

However, like the book Cheap, Lichtenstein emphasizes that customers want the low prices and employees like the apparent "family atmosphere" evoked in Walmart stores (at least initially, until they realize they'll never get a salary or full time job there). Unless people are willing to pay more (and thus have less), Walmart will reign supreme
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Format: Hardcover
The Retail Revolution: How Wal Mart Created a Brave New World of Business tells the history of how Wal Mart changed the way business was done. Other books survey the company's structure and evolution but this guide from historian Nelson Lichtenstein links Wal-Mart's rise to the cultural and religious values of Bible Belt America and political influences, considering his the company success has changed American politics itself. An outstanding guide, this covers more social angles than most and any business or social sciences library will welcome it.
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