Review of “A Consumer’s Republic” by Lizabeth Cohen
This is an older nonfiction book that has recently been rediscovered by the media. I heard an interview with the author on NPR and immediately purchased the Kindle version. Overall, I found it very entertaining and informative, despite a few issues. By the way, the subtitle is incorrect; the book is definitely not limited to “Postwar America,” assuming that is a reference to the Second World War. It actually starts at the turn of the twentieth century. It was first published in 2003, so it covers a tempestuous century of changes in how and why we buy stuff.
The grammar and punctuation are good, but the sentences get a little long, sometimes losing their train of thought and morphing into a new sentence before they end. I did a lot of rereading. At its core, this book is the culmination of an in-depth study of economic growth in New Jersey, extrapolated to the entire nation using reasonable assumptions, usually demonstrated to be legitimate. The Garden State is a good prototype because apparently that’s where the suburbs and mass marketing began, a response to the cost of living and lack of space in the New York City metropolitan area.
The author does a good job presenting the lighter side of consumerism while describing the struggle of disenfranchised groups (e.g., women and African Americans) to gain access to the market, which was seen as just as important as political rights. The entanglement of economic and political development is complex but presented pretty well in this book.
The author proves the existence of the “Consumer Republic” using many quotes from social leaders from the era that demonstrate the intentional development of the modern segmented, mass-market political economy called America. I had never heard any of this before, even though I lived through it and was one of the consumers that made it tick.
Everyone should at least be aware of their part in the evolution of identity politics in the segmentation of the mass market, which occurred over the last third of the twentieth century. It is a humorous and frightening story.
Unfortunately, I don’t think very many Americans will read this book (it is 800 pages long); at least, try to find a summary or, better yet, an interview with Lizabeth Cohen.