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The transformations that America went through in order to become acapitalist country were very significant and are sometimes looked past.
However, in the book Land of Desire, the author, William Leach extensivelygoes into many of those things. There were many things that went into thisranging from specific poeple and incidents to outside places and things. Leachshows each individual ordeal and explains the personal effect that it had on theindustry, as well as how society accepted, or in some cases condemned suchthings. All of this comes from his own education and understanding of thesituation. He shows the drift into a capitalistic country as being a gradualchange in one thing that then led to another, and to another, and so on. Not tomention that many, many things took part in it.
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And that if such things hadnot occurred, we would not be the country that we are today.There isn’t a whole lot of information on William Leach, but he doesappear to be a very well-thought out man. This is not his only historical bookand he’s also done other things, including the book True Love and PerfectUnion: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society, and editing The WonderfulWizard of Oz. That specifically shows up a number of times in Land of Desire.
He refers to L. Frank Baum (the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)throughout the book, as well as to the book itself. Other than that, though,there’s not much else I know about him, too bad it’s not exactly the mosthelpful information as far as why he thinks the way he does.Leach broke the book up into 5 major parts. The first being the prefaceand the introduction.
These two parts laid out the main ideas of the book. After that, Leach went into the three main sections of the book, which end upbeing the three main steps in the transformation into capitalism. The firstentitled Strategies of Enticement, went into a little bit of history, as well as thefirst recognition of capitalism and were it all began. The second section,Circuits of Power, retold stories of how the public reacted to the whole thing. It also dealt with the philosophical side of capitalism. The final major sectionof the book, Managing a Dream Culture, displayed the managerial aspects ofcapitalism and the poeple behind it. Then, the last pages illustrate how thehistory in the book affected our country today, hence the its Legacies.
It prettymuch sums up why what happened was important and the such.”This book exhibits how this older culture was challenged and wasgradually superseded by the new culture,” (p8). That pretty much sums up thefirst section of the book, Strategies of Enticement. Within this chapter you seethe clear path towards capitalism being chosen.
It starts out with what led upto the idea of capitalism, including the merchant John Wanamaker and theretail wars. It sets up the most vital history to understanding the wholeThe next step to the up and rising consumer industry was the elaborateand aesthetically pleasing forms of advertisement that began. It all began withthe advertising cards and eventually led to billboards and electrical advertising. This is also one of the first times that Baum is discussed, this time concerninghis manual on “the arts of decorating and display” (p56). This was really theOne of the last chapters of this section is about fashion and the effect ithad on the market. It also links the wants of the US consumers to the haves ofthe European consumers, specifically France.
The first of many fashion showsbegin arising here and the impact that foreign countries have on what is “in”and “out” begin here. Later on, Oriental fashion shows up in a similar way.The final chapter in this section goes into the detail of the first customerservices.
It begins the linkage between capitalism and religion here due to thefact that many of the ideals in customer services were similar to those ideals ofChristians. Despite the fact that “Americans had broken from their olderreligious heritage, at their best they still retained the spirit of service” (p115). And from there the hospitality in public places such as daycares, live music, etcall began.
It also touched on refunds and what we would now call credit cards.The next few chapters wrapped into the section entitled Circuits ofPower, broadened on the effects of the growing consumer awareness andcapitalism. It discusses just how much of an impact capitalism and it’screations had on every day life for the poeple. Museums, restaurants, hotels,and even educational systems among other things all changed their ways dueto the new ideas brought about by capitalism. Commercial art schools sprungup in a number of places and the book even went into the fact that many”furniture designers, and designers of wrapping papers, combs, labels, andpackaging visited the Brooklyn museum” (p170) as a way to expand theirminds and products. The new places had an impact on things like thetransportation even, “special subway stations were erected for the bigdepartment stores and hotels” (p173). Things were changing in a big way.
This is also the section where religion is expanded upon, as well as thephilosophy of mind curing. The big debate concerning religion here is whethercapitalism and the consumer industry can grow and still stay moral. This issomething that seems t be argued about any change and the answer seemed tobe more so than anything, no.
Wanamaker came up and was a prime model inthat area. He did many moral things for the community like set up youthgroups and the such, but when it came to business, his goals changed topersonal gratification. Although a few poeple still thought it possible, morethought that the “split perspective reflected a division in public and personalgoals and undercut the ability of religion to deal with the crucial public issuesof the day” (p195).
And so it usually went. Mind curing started up soon after the rise of consumerism throughliterature, mainly. It consisted of “common roots with both liberal andevangelical Protestantism and carried to an extreme many of the most liberaltendencies of in those faiths” (p 226). Such authors as L. Frank Baum andEleanor Porter supported and helped to spread the philosophy throughout thecountry and it held onto a number of poeple for quite a while.
The last section of the book, Managing a Dream Culture, was a lot aboutthe accomplishment of stabilizing capitalism in the US. This is where the nittygritty of it all came out. The first chapter of it, was completely about how thebooming businesses were handled and who handled them.
The loans andcredit businesses were also hot and so were problems with them. People werecheaply taking advantage of things like return policies (much like they do evennow), doing things like returning whole sets of furniture after using themsolely for a single wedding (p301). Another thing that came up again was the aesthetics of the marketingand of the stores themselves.
Elegance was very popular and accessories werebig, especially around Christmas time. Christmas time in the big New Yorkdepartment stores was (and is still) a really big deal, it’s actually one of the realreasons that there are toy departments at all. One of these chapters also wentthrough how the whole Santa at the mall thing came about, in the early 1900s. It was all about marketing and making money, and due to it the popularity ofChristmas and Santa sky rocketed. There wasn’t any way of getting away fromThe final chapter, tells a how lot about Herbert Hoover and what he didto guide the last parts of the transition. “Herbert Hoover was a major architectof change” (p352) and Leach found him as a good man when it came to pushingfor the consumption system. He did a number of things includingstrengthening the institutional structure and helping enable the environmentfor economical development.
This was another small part about who and whathandled the new system of capitalism in our country.And then finally there is the section, Legacies, it pretty much tells youhow Leach thinks individual things that went on permanently changed societyfor us today. And that the stuff that went on from 1880-1930 really made apermanent difference, for the most part improvements, to our business andmarketing systems of today. America strives on this market and without it, wewould lose a big piece of our American heritage.
Besides, “however flawed, thecapitalist concept of self, the consumer concept of the self, it is a reigningAmerican concept” (p386) and it is in this system that there is the freedom ofself expression and self fulfillment in a market with no boundaries.This is a really well set up book, I think.The way Leach organizedeverything in the different sections and then in chapters makes it very easy tofollow the history of capitalism. Although, sometimes it seems as though hewent a little far in explaining certain ideals, as well as exaggerating theimportance of some things.
Overall though, it was very well done and after thePrologue, it is a really interesting book.Some of the conclusions that were drawn throughout the book wereobviously biased. Although most of the book is very informative without astrong bias, at certain points you could very well see if or if not Leach agreedwith a certain quote or idea. You could also tell where his interests laid,specifically when he spoke about literature.
You heard a lot about Baum andpoeple that were connected with him, but other than that, no other authorswere discussed other than Porter, who had many similar ideals to Baum’s. Another thing that was discussed a lot was religion, so I think that Leach has astrong connection to religion, too. He always wanted to make it a part of thetopic being discussed, whether it was relevant or not, it sometimes seemed. Other than those two things and Leach wrote quite impartially and stuck toAs far as contradicting or supporting information I had already attainedon this topic, I would have to say that if anything, he agrees with it and addedsome.
He expanded on many topics a lot more heavily than we ever discussedor read about in class. It did parallel some of the things that we learned suchas how capitalism came up and why it was so popular with the public. I thinkit gives some very good information on those things, as well as how the newsystem affected the growing country. It gives the perspectives of not onlyLeach but of other historians through quotes and ideals in general. Leach useda number of sources to create the point of view that he has, and he sharedthose things so as to help us form an opinion as well. I find it a fairly valuablebook to my education because despite the fact that it went almost overboardwith some of the information, it still defined the topic really well. It shed lighton a lot of things that are normally not as deliberated.
Throughout the book, many conclusions and generalizations were made. Many of which were well-informed, however, at the same time a few of themwere discreetly biased. He made some assumptions and said some things thatmay not be agreed with by everyone. This sort of limited what he could teachand at the same time, gave some outlooks that other historians could not havegiven because they didn’t care about the topics as much as he. Religion andLiterature are good examples of that, Leach’s attachment to those two thingsreflected in the way that he talked about them. This sometimes may haveblind folded him when it came to other topics that didn’t hold such a strongfeeling for but certainly helped out with those that he did.
I thought that the book was, in fact, very interesting and I learned a lotfrom it. I understand exactly what went on and why when it came to theconsumer market switching into a capitalist gear. He didn’t leave very muchunclear and his explanations for things were very well thought out.
The factthat he talked about maybe a little more than he needed to get his point acrosswas both a blessing and a curse in that you learned and understood more, butoccasionally it just seemed to complicate things. He obviously has an extremelydeep knowledge about this topic and perhaps that’s maybe why he wrote a bookabout it (duh), but over all, I think it is a very good book that was written witheven the least informed reader in mind. Leach made it so that anyone,whether you knew a lot about the subject or not, could understand what wenton and why. Any ideas that needed to maybe be explained to the commonerwere explained and it was very helpful in understanding the book. Iappreciated that a lot, but I am not the most learned person and I don’t know awhole lot on this subject or it’s background.Bibliography:see above