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

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  225 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
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.
Paperback, 560 pages
Published September 6th 1994 by Vintage (first published 1993)
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Jordan Munn
Oct 26, 2007 Jordan Munn rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: dudes and chicks
a damn fine book detailing the transition in America from a culture of need and use to a culture of want. Manufactured demand gets a good looking-at in this book. Leach also gives some good stuff about the beginnings of advertising and design used to entice people to buy shit they don't need.
Mar 27, 2009 Scott rated it really liked it
In Land of Desire, William Leach delineates the factors that led to the emergence of the contemporary consumer culture among Americans. He states that beginning in the late nineteenth century, American culture began to evolve (or, more appropriately, regress) into one that increasingly saw the consumption of goods as the best way to achieve “the good life.” This was accomplished, in part, through the work of merchants (John Wanamaker, the most powerful department store magnate chief among them) ...more
Sep 10, 2012 William rated it really liked it
A fascinating history. I always thought that consumer culture began after WWII in America, but I could not have been more wrong. The amount of work that went into creating this culture at the turn of the last century, and the way in which the cycle he describes keeps repeating in our society make this book a must-read for somebody who wants to understand the genesis of consumerism. The author manages to move seamlessly between large scale analysis and stats, pithy examples, and personal stories ...more
Mirosław Aleksander
Leach's analysis of the growth of consumption and materialism in America is interesting and insightful, however, I did have some doubts while reading. There's nothing wrong with the book, but I do feel that the title promised a somewhat different premise. The author often goes into details of personal careers, which is fine, but I can't shake the feeling that this was at the cost of a more comprehensive view.When we get the history of the people behind Wanamaker's, Macy's and other large departm ...more
Dec 25, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
Leach's argument oversteps itself in the chapter about religion, but by and large this is a valuable text, located chiefly within studies of consumption but also, importantly, within urban studies. Leach devotes much of his attention to the ways in which architecture--and street-level architecture, like window displays--facilitated commerce as well as commercial ideologies.
Hannah Wood
Jan 26, 2015 Hannah Wood rated it liked it
Intriguing historical read. Never knew much about the birth of department stores and consumerism as we know it.
May 16, 2014 Tim rated it it was amazing
Leach writes with beauty and force about the creation of our consumer culture through a history of department stores and their apologists. It is a great read, though it almost feels like it could be more than one book. The three sections feel distinct, though his arguments are carried throughout. The first on fashion and display and the growth of stores as "cathedrals" of consumption in the late 19th century is glorious in description and argument. The second on institutional connections, linkin ...more
Mar 23, 2010 Michael rated it liked it
For someone who gets Mall Fatigue by the time I park and traverse Macys, I felt the task of completing this to be somewhat arduous. However, for those interested in the rise of US commercialism on the basis not only of the dramatic evolutions within retailing but also in consideration of certain intellectual outpourings and certain institutional support within the decades in question, then you should find this to be a great book. Leach covers the transformation of a Mother-stitching-one’s-britch ...more
Paige Ellen Stone
An amazing accounting of the collusion between government and business. In addition, Leach describes the shift of American values away from the whole person to the person as defined by things s/he owns. Perhaps the best history available of the period of the late 1800's to the early 1990's from this particular perspective.
Grand history of the glory years of advertising, business schools, the American service industry, and Santa Claus. Leach shows the missing link for how "desire" used to be a vice in America, but now President Bush said that we should go "shopping" after terrorist attacks. For a scholarly work, the book can feel unfocused at times, but as a popular work, it's fun to see how Leach weaves in L. Frank Baum, Thorstein Veblen, G.K. Chesterton, Herbert Hoover, and obscure businessmen and women to bring ...more
Jan 16, 2016 Les rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at the growth of American consumer culture with a special emphasis on the role of Department stores (1880-1920). The author has a critical view of this development, but he does not let his perspective detract from a huge amount of new material (to me) regarding how marketing, advertising, packaging and presenting products rapidly developed. It's notable for the fascinating personalities he profiles, including John Wannamaker and L. Frank Baum (who was a master of window dressing ...more
Aug 31, 2012 Kristi rated it it was amazing
Very well done. Informative, engaging, and all too relevant to our own times. A very good read.
Minjie Li
Oct 08, 2012 Minjie Li rated it it was amazing
I just have had a man crush on John Wanamaker after reading this book.
Five stars!
Jim Swike
Jul 07, 2013 Jim Swike rated it it was amazing
Great historical look at the rise of consumerism in America
Jan 31, 2013 Erin rated it really liked it
good overview of rise of consumer capitalism in US...
Jul 11, 2012 Ja rated it liked it
Really good.
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“Sell them their dreams,' a woman radio announcer urged a convention of display men in 1923. 'Sell them what they longed for and hoped for and almost despaired of having. Sell them hats by splashing sunlight across them. Sell them dreams – dreams of country clubs and proms and visions of what might happen if only. After all, people don’t buy things to have things. They buy things to work for them. They buy hope – hope of what your merchandise will do for them. Sell them this hope and you won’t have to worry about selling them goods.” 4 likes
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