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Irresistible Empire

Irresistible Empire

America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe

Victoria de Grazia

ISBN 9780674022348

Publication date: 10/31/2006

The most significant conquest of the twentieth century may well have been the triumph of American consumer society over Europe’s bourgeois civilization. It is this little-understood but world-shaking campaign that unfolds in Irresistible Empire, Victoria de Grazia’s brilliant account of how the American standard of living defeated the European way of life and achieved the global cultural hegemony that is both its great strength and its key weakness today.

De Grazia describes how, as America’s market empire advanced with confidence through Europe, spreading consumer-oriented capitalism, all alternative strategies fell before it—first the bourgeois lifestyle, then the Third Reich’s command consumption, and finally the grand experiment of Soviet-style socialist planning. Tracing the peculiar alliance that arrayed New World salesmanship, statecraft, and standardized goods against the Old World’s values of status, craft, and good taste, Victoria de Grazia follows the United States’ market-driven imperialism through a vivid series of cross-Atlantic incursions by the great inventions of American consumer society. We see Rotarians from Duluth in the company of the high bourgeoisie of Dresden; working-class spectators in ramshackle French theaters conversing with Garbo and Bogart; Stetson-hatted entrepreneurs from Kansas in the midst of fussy Milanese shoppers; and, against the backdrop of Rome’s Spanish Steps and Paris’s Opera Comique, Fast Food in a showdown with advocates for Slow Food. Demonstrating the intricacies of America’s advance, de Grazia offers an intimate and historical dimension to debates over America’s exercise of soft power and the process known as Americanization. She raises provocative questions about the quality of the good life, democracy, and peace that issue from the vaunted victory of mass consumer culture.

Praise

  • Quite possibly the most ambitious, original, and comprehensive study of the complex two-sided interactions between American popular culture and Europe to date. Both fair-minded and lively, de Grazia develops a bold overview of her subject right up to the present, without ever losing sight of the national and individual variations in the larger patterns of production, marketing, and reception. A dazzling and eloquent book.

    —Ann Douglas, author of Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s

Awards

  • 2006, Winner of the Myrna F. Bernath Book Award

Author

  • Victoria de Grazia is Moore Collegiate Professor of History at Columbia University and a founding editor of Radical History Review. Her widely translated, prizewinning books include Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe and How Fascism Ruled Women. She has received the Woodrow Wilson, Jean Monnet, and Guggenheim fellowships and the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome.

Book Details

  • 608 pages
  • 0-7/16 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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