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A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America
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A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  593 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
In this signal work of history, Bancroft Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Lizabeth Cohen shows how the pursuit of prosperity after World War II fueled our pervasive consumer mentality and transformed American life.

Trumpeted as a means to promote the general welfare, mass consumption quickly outgrew its economic objectives and became synonymous with patriotism, soci
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ebook, 576 pages
Published December 24th 2008 by Vintage (first published January 21st 2003)
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Joshua Walker Addison, it's been a few months since you asked but I'll answer nonetheless just in case! The book is 409 pages long and academic in nature which…moreAddison, it's been a few months since you asked but I'll answer nonetheless just in case! The book is 409 pages long and academic in nature which slows the pace at times. However, it took me about 15-18 hours over a couple of days and I read slow. Very interesting at times, depending on what you are looking for. Hope that helps.(less)
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Billy
Argues that Keynesian-paradigms of thought transcended the New Deal brain-trusters and was adopted by grassroots consumers. In short, consumption became a political act in and of itself during the New Deal, and this dollar activism has remained in the United States ever since. In her examination, she builds upon E.P. Thompson’s idea of a “moral economy,” a notion that began with the Progressive era but came to actualization during the Great Depression. In particular, women and African American g ...more
Craig Werner
Feb 22, 2012 Craig Werner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cohen's thesis--and this is very much a thesis driven book, sometimes to its determent--is that in the years since World War II, the United States is best understood as a "consumers' republic," and that, for the most part, that has operated to the detriment of political citizenship. The consumers' republic refers to the intersection of an economy, culture and politics "built around the promises of mass consumption, both in terms of material life and the more idealistic goals of freedom, democrac ...more
Ross
Jun 24, 2017 Ross rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After World War II, Americans began to change their attitude toward the role of consumption in constructing American identity and values. Actively discouraged by the American government during the war and socially condemned during the Depression, postwar conspicuous consumption subsequently came to represent all that was ideally American in Cohen’s "Consumers’ Republic": freedom, egalitarianism, and democracy. Cohen argues that the reality of the Consumers’ Republic was not so democratic, but wa ...more
Hank Stuever
Aug 22, 2013 Hank Stuever rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great start for anyone who wants to think or write more intelligently about our shared shopaholic tendencies.
Mariel
Mar 23, 2017 Mariel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cohen's argument can be broadly generalized to say that post-war economic policies and consumer spending habits led Americans to conceive of themselves more as consumers than politically-minded citizens. However, the nuance of her work, especially in her attention to the gender and racial inequalities of post-war consumption patterns, illuminates a fundamental shift in what it means to be an American citizen and what constitutes "rights" beyond the framers' intent. Read in March 2017, when the c ...more
Joseph Stieb
This is a well-researched, clearly written, and fascinating book that I will come back to over and over again. It's one of those "this is the why the world is the way it is" books that are just incredibly valuable to scholars and the general reader alike. It wasn't always the quickest read, but it is highly illuminating.

Cohen's focus is on consumption, citizenship, and suburbanization. She argues that consumption in the 1930's and 40's became a patriotic act designed to boost the economy under K
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William
Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption, is a interesting look at the economic and cultural currents which transformed America during the early years of the Cold War. Cohen initially traces this current from the headwaters of the Progressive era, clearly evidenced by Thorsten Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, in which Veblen argued for the existence of a Gilded Age proto-“keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of social mimicry. As Cohen illustrates, however, ...more
Cynthia
Interesting but very dense, strategically organized in kind of an odd way, and damn is that conclusion depressing.
Mike Hankins
In "A Consumer's Republic," Lizabeth Cohen tracks how America shifted during the mass production of World War 2 into a nation based largely on consumerism as a road to prosperity. Her analysis is solid, and the book is well written for the most part. It's a great source, except that most readers will probably not learn much that they didn't already know. Most of this information seems commonly known, and the book is quite longer than it needs to be.

Electrified by the shock of World War 2 and the
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Rebecca Radnor
Interesting take on American history from the 1930's forward that focuses on the role (or you could say rule) of the consumer (rather than the voter or worker), arguing that they became the controlling influence, and sometimes even the controlling power in American society.

As I read this I realized that I had already read some of the chapters for various classes on American history (namely the ones on suburbia and shopping malls). In fact this book is more a collection of journal articles writt
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Stephen
What is the meaning of citizenship? To the Romans, and to the early Americans, citizenship was an exclusive state of being that depended on owning land, and so a stake in society. In the early twentieth century, however, as suffrage waxed more universal and markets were flooded with goods made for the masses, citizenship took on a different meaning. To be a citizen of a modern, capitalist democracy was to be a Consumer; voices rang out most strongly at the marketplace, not the ballot box. In A C ...more
Tim
May 29, 2014 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent history, deeply researched and convincingly argued. Cohen tracks the formation of a Consumer Republic ("an economy, culture, and politics built around the promises of mass consumption, both in terms of material life and the more idealistic goals of greater freedom, democracy, and equality") in the aftermath of WW2, from its antecedents in the Depression era citizen consumer, to purchaser as citizen in the aftermath of the war, to the end of the consumer republic, as the roles of consu ...more
Samuel
Oct 28, 2013 Samuel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, the author describes the United States following World War II as a “Consumers’ Republic” that she defines as “an economy, culture, and politics built around the promises of mass consumption, both in terms of material life and the more idealistic goals of greater freedom, democracy, and equality.” Although Cohen focuses the majority of her analysis of postwar America on the first three decades followin ...more
Kaufmak
Lizabeth Cohen made her name with the New Deal, but it is this is by far the superior work, though I'm quite biased. This time frame is where I feel that the workers of the United States truly blew it. In exchange for political power, they pursued purchasing power, of creature comforts, of as they called them at the time, "bread and butter issues." Look, I don't fault workers for wanting a better life, a chance at that brass ring of middle-class life, but the cost was far too high. They gave up ...more
Sarah
A must-read from Lizabeth Cohen. Love the focus through the lens of consumption history as opposed to the Cold War paradigm traditionally used. Chapters on suburbanization and shopping centers are especially good, as is market and political segmentation. Epilogue is a little too idealistic for me; I'd enjoy reading an updated essay by Cohen on her opinions now in 2017.
Tyler
Feb 13, 2017 Tyler rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Probably the most dense, complicated, and boring history book I have ever read. It was well-researched. Her analysis was excellent. I just didn't care about the topic at all and she gave me no reason to care.
Mark
Jul 28, 2008 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subject matter of "A Consumers' Republic" is engrossing and the book reveals many truths that are now forgotten and swept under the rug. Cohen uses an impressive plethora of examples to demonstrate her points, and in the end I know much more about the United States' economic and social history from the 30's to the present.

Unfortuntately, Cohen's writing often becomes convoluted and difficult to read due to frequent lengthy and difficult to follow sentences. While reading, many times I had t
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Mike Snyder
Sep 20, 2012 Mike Snyder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well researched and well written, the book details how the consumer economy that the US now "enjoys" was created as a conscious policy after WWII. Today, we take it for granted that markets are segmented and targeted, whereas once we had a "mass" market. This book explains how this came about. One of the more interesting parts of the book for me was the detailed discussion of how segregation of African Americans was practiced in Northern suburbs, focusing on New Jersey. It also explains how it i ...more
Samrat Sen
Mar 08, 2013 Samrat Sen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating research on the consumption topography in United States and the evolution of consumer culture between 1930s and 1980. The author has painstakingly put together the various facets, be it the impact on civil society, or the growth of market research in ensuring constant & micro level segregation of consumer. The depiction of political, cultural landscape is indeed captivating. It truly maps the history through the eyes of the consumer.

A good read for those of us interested to und
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Ben
Feb 03, 2014 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The development of the consumer's republic from the Great Depression to the early 1970s. this means both a switch in rhetoric to consumerim/ Keynesianism from producerism, and the way that the emphasis on consumption influenced conceptions of identity and citizenship. Ultimately, the short term gains of the consumer's republic resulted in progressive ends without progressive means, as growth continued, everyone would gain, but if growth halted (as it did in the 1970s) there was no structure in p ...more
Rose
Jul 12, 2012 Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent analysis of the post-war economy that was fueled by consumerism. Cohen's work is complete, and thorough, analyzing the United States as a whole as well as using the microcosm of New Jersey to give more specific evidence for her argument. My only criticism is that while she discusses the ways in which the Consumer's Republic discriminates against African Americans, she does very little in terms of discussing how it affects other minorities. Especially in her section on the movement of w ...more
David Ross
Dec 08, 2016 David Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very exhaustive, well researched history of America's post war consumer explosion. Anyone looking for the roots of America's current major problems need look no further. Military expansionism, racist segregation, trickle down economics; all of the greatest hits stem from the changes put in place, turning the country from industrial to consumer powerhouse. Using America as the example, you can see how we went from the tough industrial workhouses to the smart, office based service industry that ...more
Terry Earley
Listened to Lee Eisenberg on Diane Rehm show discuss his book, but he also mentioned this one, which sounded more interesting to me.

The interview here:
http://wamu.org/audio/dr/09/11/r20911...


I actually read the intro and the first 50 pages and found it too scholarly. It was certainly readable, but not for my taste. It would be an excellent reference and it makes a very powerful point that the US economy has been relentlessly dependent on consumer spending and necessarily on consumer debt.
Daniel
Jul 09, 2014 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was interesting and informative, and I'm glad I read it, but it's not what I'd call a "fun" read. Cohen's prose is dry and academic, so if you're a history buff who can handle that sort of thing, this book is a fantastic analysis of the changes to American culture in the years after WW2. If you're not a reader of academic history texts, you'll probably be bored to tears, ha ha.
Courtney
I'd give a 3.5 out of 5 stars---mostly for its length (though it covers a lot in the course of 400 pages). Someone less exhausted and more interested in this era would give it a higher rating, but this is the last book after months of reading for comprehensive exams and I was so done with it halfway through. Frankly, my brain hurts.
Bryan
May 09, 2013 Bryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Glad that I finally got through it. Wish that I had read it before I went to hear Dr. Cohen speak at Temple earlier this year. This is an important book to understand how we got to where we are at this point in time in this country.
Sean Chick
Solid overall argument, but I did not like her writing style, except towards the end where she really made her feelings clear. At long last, honest!
Cambra
Jan 24, 2008 Cambra rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
aaaaaaaaaaaccccccckkkkkkk

(trans: could & should be abridged into essay form).
Janet
May 13, 2008 Janet rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: consumption
Liz baby, too long and unfocussed. But you're making an important historical argument.
AskHistorians
A great history of consumerism in the post-WWII US.
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