Land of desire: merchants, power, and the rise of a new American culture

Absorbing and incisive, 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, with comfort and bodily well-being, with luxury, spending, and acquisition, with more goods this year than last, more next year than this." Tracing the rise of American mass-market culture from its beginnings in the 1890s, William 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 and marching bands and bugle corps 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. A fascinating tale of American business, one that is particularly resonant amid the undertow of today's staggering trade deficits and retail bankruptcies, Land of Desire raises some disturbing questions about how the work ethic of an earlier America was superseded by a new consumer culture that came to dominate, reshape, and ultimately define America.