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A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America
Lizabeth Cohen

Vintage
December 24, 2008

The three decades after World War II are often heralded as a “Golden Era” of American affluence. But as Lizabeth Cohen makes clear, the pursuit of prosperity defined much more than the nation’s economy; it also became a basic component of American citizenship. Consumers were encouraged to buy not just for themselves, but for the good of the nation. After a decade and a half of hard times resulting from the Great Depression and the war, the embrace of mass consumption, with its supposed far-reaching benefits—greater freedom, democracy, and equality—transformed American life. The extensive suburbanization of metropolitan areas (propelled by such government policies as the GI Bill), the shift from downtowns to shopping centers, and the advent of targeted marketing all fueled the consumer economy, but also sharpened divisions among Americans along gender, class, and racial lines. At the same time, mass consumption changed American politics, inspiring new forms of political activism through the civil rights and consumer movements and prompting politicians to apply the latest marketing strategies to their political campaigns. Cohen traces the legacy of the “Consumers’ Republic” into our time, demonstrating how it has reshaped our relationship to government itself, with Americans increasingly judging public services—as if one more purchased good—by the personal benefits they derive from them. Brilliantly researched and reasoned, A Consumers’ Republic is a starkly illuminating social and political history. From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author
Lizabeth Cohen is Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies in the Department of History at Harvard University. She is the author of Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919—1939, which won the Bancroft Prize and the Philip Taft Labor History Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written many articles and essays and is coauthor (with David Kennedy) of The American Pageant. She lives in Belmont, Massachusetts, with her husband and two daughters.From the Trade Paperback edition.

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