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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  320 ratings  ·  23 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 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.
Lauren Albert
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-american
Have I bought too much into consumer culture that I felt uncomfortable with his attitude at times? I agree with him frequently but the constant satire could get wearing. What price have we paid for our access to "things"? He does an amazing job showing the transition between one world and another (metaphorically speaking). The anecdotes are interesting, amusing and sometimes frightening.
Mar 24, 2009 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
Jan 03, 2012 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
Dec 25, 2009 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.
Adam Orford
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it
unbelievably boring
Oct 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Intriguing historical read. Never knew much about the birth of department stores and consumerism as we know it.
Gaylord Dold
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Land of Desire: Merchants, Power and the Rise of a New American Culture by William Leach (Pantheon Books, New York, 1993)

The original American culture was an idealized blend of Republican virtue, Christian piety and community values overlaid against a backdrop of slavery, gambling, genocide and war. Whatever its true ideals and real scope, Americans believed themselves deeply moral creatures immersed in a system of villages and hamlets, self-sustaining farms, and Church communities, despite the
JF at  SustainableTraditions
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If every American read this book and understood how our culture was long ago converted to the collective pursuit of luxury, comfort and endless consumer goods there would be a revolution overnight. But alas, the transformation is so complete no one remembers the days when we were free from the influence of retail moguls and consumer culture. This book is an open historical account of the deep undercurrent that has more sway over our society than even politics or religion - a seriously dangerous ...more
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, incredibly thorough look at the rise of American consumer culture between the 1890s and the 1920s. Leach looks deeply at his subject from a wide variety of angles, both on the ground (the rise of department stores, the birth of the advertising industry) and in the broader culture (shifting American Christianity, societal ideas about children, local and national government restructuring) - he covers so much ground so well, and none of it feels superfluous, or like an academic ...more
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: uni
a pleasure to read, vivid descriptions, however a little one-sided.
Michael Primiani
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book about the birth of capitalist consumer culture in America
Feb 03, 2014 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, ...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 ...more
Feb 10, 2010 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 ...more
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 05, 2015 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
Kristian Köhntopp
Ein Sachbuch über die Ursprünge der Konsumentenkultur in den USA, und dem Rest der Welt im Kontext der industriellen Revolution zu Anfang des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. Gezeigt werden die technischen und sozialen Veränderungen und wie sie die Gesellschaft und ihre Werte verändert haben. Dabei verzichtet das Buch weitgehend auf Wertungen und beschränkt sich auf Darstellung der Zusammenhänge und Belege.

Eine faszinierende und extrem aufschlussreiche Lektüre. Wer sich für Geschichte, Gesellschaft und
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.
Jim Swike
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great historical look at the rise of consumerism in America
Minjie Li
Sep 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I just have had a man crush on John Wanamaker after reading this book.
Five stars!
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
good overview of rise of consumer capitalism in US...
Ryan Tickle
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Nov 05, 2014
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