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Finalist for the National Book Award
Land of Desire tells the story of a fundamental transformation in the culture and economy of America—the rise of mass-market consumerism and the attendant shift to a society preoccupied with consumption, well-being, luxury, and acquisition. Tracing the ascendancy of mass-market culture from its beginnings in the 1890s, Leach reveals how pioneering and visionary merchant princes—John Wanamaker, the Straus brothers, Marshall Field, and A.T. Stewart—constructed the modern department store business and lured millions of buyers with remarkable feats of showmanship. Spectacular displays with dazzling light and color effects were part of the pageantry employed to entice Americans into the pleasure of consumption and indulgence. Famous architects and stage designers were enlisted to create the proper atmosphere, and they became part of a complex network of relationships involving banks, hotels, churches, museums, universities, and government that helped these merchants, in effect, create and disseminate a new mentality predicated on acquisition and consumption as a means of achieving happiness. Land of Desire raises disturbing questions about how the work ethic of an earlier America was superseded by a new consumer culture that came to dominate, reshape, and ulimately define America.
“An extraordinary work of history, imaginatively conceived, thoroughly researched and absorbingly written. William Leach allows us to see the production of mass consumer culture and to see it whole, in its richness and its poverty. It is a fascinating and troubling tale, and Leach tells it with exceptional skill and sensitivity.” —Jean-Christophe Agnew, Yale University
“A major reinterpretation of our cultural experience, Land of Desire is a brilliant, evocative, and highly readable study by an original, honest and courageous historian who has seen to the heart of American commercial culture. In a society in debt to the licentious 1980s and unfortunately still attempting to achieve social justice though endless growth, this is required reading.” —Mary O. Furner, University of California, Santa Barbara