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Irresistible Empire

America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe

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$35.00 • £30.95 • €31.95

ISBN 9780674022348

Publication Date: 10/31/2006


608 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

45 halftones

Belknap Press


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If Charlemagne or Napoleon could see their continent today, they would be with de Grazia. One glance at Europe’s great capitals, and they would assume Europe had been conquered, occupied and settled by Americans. The men who dreamed of l’Europe profonde would curse the ubiquity of Eminem as they sat in the greasy KFC on the Falls Road in Belfast munching their Chicken Popcorn. They would stagger their way around Italy’s most beautiful city, guided by a McDonald’s map of McVenice. Irresistible Empire is the story of how this happened, of how an imperium came to Europe in the form of an emporium. Unlike the Middle East and Latin America, Europe has seen only the peaceful face of America’s empire. De Grazia…shows how—in just one century—the Old Continent was subject to slow conquest by a million consumer goods.—Johann Hari, The New York Times Book Review

This is an extraordinary book, and de Grazia displays impressive range and erudition in taking the reader from Dresden to Duluth, Minnesota, from Belgian entrepreneurs to Italian supermarket concerns, to the boardrooms of the advertising giant J. Walter Thompson on New York’s Madison Avenue. She attends both to material, economic changes and to the social (and gender-historical) consequences and cultural meanings of those changes, a divide that few historians are able to span. Consequently, hers is a richly textured and multilayered account, highly accessible for its absorbing anecdotes and engaging style and yet deeply grounded in archival research and current historiographic insight. Above all, de Grazia has done a tremendous service by theorizing and historicizing this contentious topic and by giving it the transnational treatment that it demands. This ambitious book will remain a reference point for years to come.—Paul Lerner, The Times Literary Supplement

Victoria de Grazia’s Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe is both a study of the forces working to ‘Americanize’ Europe and a contribution to the debate about their value… The strength of her account lies in its long-term perspective… De Grazia approaches the issue of Americanization through a series of finely drawn case studies which examine not merely the obvious examples of American commercial practice—the chain store, big-brand goods, Hollywood movies, and the supermarket—but also the mechanisms by which she believes American capitalist values were spread through Europe. Many of these individual chapters read like stand-alone essays—nuanced, witty, and carefully polished accounts, for instance, of the Rotary International or the European poster industry… As Irresistible Empire amply demonstrates, shrewd American entrepreneurs and patriotic zealots (often one and the same person) have tried hard and often successfully to inculcate ‘American’ business practices in Europe. Europe would be a different place without them.—John Brewer, The New York Review of Books

[An] important, richly detailed, sometimes eccentric book… [De Grazia’s] subject is ‘the rise of a great imperium with the outlook of a great emporium’: how America’s products, producers and salesmen, with the full cognizance and backing of its politicians, came after 1900 to transform not just the purchasing habits and desires of Europeans but also their ideas about society and themselves… Much has been published on American empire and on the transatlantic divide in recent years. The great virtue of this work is that it takes a provocative and unusual line. De Grazia illustrates how empires can seduce and not simply coerce.—Linda Colley, The Nation

Victoria de Grazia’s Irresistible Empire, a 480-page juggernaut in a mini-flotilla of recent books about ‘soft power,’ represents a remarkable, big-think undertaking two decades in the making… Today, as Europe endures turbulence over the state of its own union, de Grazia’s book could not be more timely… That de Grazia limits herself to the roots of American influence in Europe is a testament to her depth. But it is her robust writing, mastery of scene-setting, and deft deconstruction of illustrative events that move it from academic to accessible.—Clayton Collins, The Christian Science Monitor

The triumph of American commercial values over old Europe’s overtly intellectual culture in the 20th century is the theme of Victoria de Grazia’s compelling, thorough and sparklingly written study… The author is right to contend that mass consumer culture is such an ephemeral form of material life that the great trends that formed it are ‘easily lost to sight.’ But this masterful book brings them right back into our field of vision.—Peter Aspden, Financial Times

This wonderful book, written with extraordinary erudition and verve by a social historian, is a study of the way in which the American ethos of mass consumption has ‘conquered’ Europe since the interwar period.—Stanley Hoffman, Foreign Affairs

This book gives a doorstopping gloss on Churchill’s remark that Americans always do the right thing…but only after exhausting all the other possibilities. [Europe’s] capitulation to their capitalism is the subject of this elegant work. It is an eloquent book too, written with measure and cadences and care which have their roots in Old World learning rather than New World Write-Lite and its flashy neologisms… This is an impressively learned and intelligent book.—Stephen Bayly, The Independent

Irresistible Empire describes how ‘cleverly marketed and advertised brand-goods’ from across the Atlantic knocked down the fortresses of a more hierarchical and craft-based 20th-century European culture. The book is full of elegant case studies and erudite anecdotes.—Cormac Ó Gráda, The Irish Times

A major work of scholarship, 20 years in the making, that uses the tools of economics, history, and cultural studies to lay bare the mechanisms that created the American Century.—Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

[R]eaders will be intrigued by de Grazia’s magisterial account of economic and cultural change.—Carl L. Bankston III, SalemPressOnline

Given the proliferation of studies of consumption, a comparative and integrative study in this area is to be warmly welcomed. Victoria de Grazia makes a notable contribution with a study that offers a good deal of interest to business historians… Both the range and the close argument encourage frequent dips into the extensive notes and bibliography to identify particular sources and connections.—Michael French, Business History Review

Victoria de Grazia’s Irresistible Empire is a dazzling work that aims to reassess the American impact on Europe in the twentieth century… No historian has yet attempted what de Grazia does here: a sweeping synthesis that provides very detailed and thick descriptions of just how private and state projects have operated to carry American methods and products to Europe, changing the nature of business and consumer culture.—Max Paul Friedman, H-German

In this stimulating book, Victoria de Grazia explains how an American ‘market empire’ displaced an Old World consumer regime built around community, solidarity, and class hierarchy… De Grazia develops her argument through case studies, each one masterfully written and impressively documented… Her multilingual research, attention to the power of norms in everyday life, and ability to synthesize business, politics, and culture make this one of the most important books written about consumerism in international history.—Christopher Endy, Journal of American History

Victoria de Grazia’s Irresistible Empire is a bravura performance. Based on prodigious research in archival and published sources on both sides of the Atlantic, the book is beautifully written, with epic sweep and the eye of a novelist—or perhaps better a filmmaker—for the significant detail that simultaneously limns a character and advances the story line. Fascinating empirical discoveries await the reader in every chapter, from Thomas Mann as a Rotarian at the beginning to the Eurocommunist origins of the Slow Food movement at the end. But Irresistible Empire is no mere cabinet of archival curiosities or album of microhistorical vignettes. Animated by a bold thesis about the triumph of American mass consumer culture, with its stratified, status-conscious worlds of goods, over European bourgeois civilization, this book offers nothing less than a grand macro-synthesis of twentieth-century Western history, integrating cultural, economic, and diplomatic themes on a transatlantic scale.—Jonathan Zeitlin, Journal of Cold War Studies

This richly rewarding and smoothly synthetic work traces the influence of American business practices and models in Europe through the crisis-wracked course of the twentieth century. Its palpable merits lie in the close coordination of archival research and transversal analysis across different regional locales, business sectors, nation-states, and periods—all accomplished with brisk synoptic sweep… This important, well-crafted, and stimulating work has very convenient aids in its illustrations, endnotes, and critical bibliographical essays. It will be an excellent classroom resource across undergraduate and graduate courses. The argument is bolstered by clear, pertinent statistical information and ‘hard’ data to support the author’s case for sinewy ‘soft-power’ hegemony.—Michael Ermarth, Journal of Modern History

Victoria de Grazia’s book makes a significant contribution to the current academic discourse on imperialism by focusing not on its political and military dimensions, but on its cultural manifestations… This is a scholarly and provocative book which makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the contemporary role of culture and its diffusion… In addition to its scholarly contributions, this is a readable and enjoyable book, which contains a wealth of interesting information that will appeal to both academic and popular audiences.Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

[Victoria de Grazia’s] insightful, thoroughly researched, and beautifully written book treats an important and pivotal moment in Europe’s encounter with the emerging hyper-puissance, the United States… On the whole, Victoria de Grazia’s recent work will be valuable to intellectual, cultural, and business historians, as well as anyone who enjoys ruminating on the divisions that continue to bedevil the transatlantic alliance, especially in regard to how Europeans and Americans conduct their business and, indeed, their lives.—Richard Kim, Theory & Society

A smart and engaging look at how U.S. consumerism swept aside European cultural conservatism to create a transatlantic, transnational market.Kirkus Reviews

De Grazia writes clearly, giving an uncommon perspective on the ways and means by which the U.S. and Europe drew close after WWII.Publishers Weekly

Thomas Mann, a Rotarian? This is only one of the many delicious surprises awaiting the reader of Irresistible Empire, Victoria de Grazia’s rich and richly ironic exploration of the vexed encounter between American salesmanship and the mercantile cultures of continental Europe. Tacking effortlessly across the White Atlantic, de Grazia tells the story of a near-century-long, transnational seduction—a story that is one part coercive geopolitics and one part coyly improvised dance.—Jean-Christophe Agnew, Yale University

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

Irresistible Empire is extraordinary in the breadth of its historical vision, the depth of its archival research, and the fluency with which its author tacks across the ‘White Atlantic’ and, in turn, across continental Europe itself. Few authors approach de Grazia’s wide familiarity with the sources and issues, and fewer still can write with such a marvelous balance of generosity and irony. A spectacular feast for the senses and the mind.—Michael Geyer, University of Chicago

Irresistible Empire is a brilliant synthesis of economic and cultural history—magisterial in scope, convincing in argument, written with vigor and grace. Victoria de Grazia breathes new life into the notion of ‘Americanization,’ providing fascinating details and fresh insights on nearly every page. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the elusive but implacable influence of American consumer culture in foreign settings, throughout the twentieth century and beyond. A powerful, important, and timely book.—Jackson Lears, author of Fables of Abundance: a Cultural History of Advertising in America

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