The Retail Revolution

How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business

Nelson Lichtenstein

Metropolitan Books

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The definitive account of how a small Ozarks company upended the world of business and what that change means

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company, roared out of the rural South to change the way business is done. Deploying computer-age technology, Reagan-era politics, and Protestant evangelism, Sam Walton’s firm became a byword for cheap goods and low-paid workers, famed for the ruthless efficiency of its global network of stores and factories. But the revolution has gone further: Sam’s protégés have created a new economic order which puts thousands of manufacturers, indeed whole regions, in thrall to a retail royalty. Like the Pennsylvania Railroad and General Motors in their heyday, Wal-Mart sets the commercial model for a huge swath of the global economy.

In this lively, probing investigation, historian Nelson Lichtenstein deepens and expands our knowledge of the merchandising giant. He shows that Wal-Mart’s rise was closely linked to the cultural and religious values of Bible Belt America as well as to the imperial politics, deregulatory economics, and laissez-faire globalization of Ronald Reagan and his heirs. He explains how the company’s success has transformed American politics, and he anticipates a day of reckoning, when challenges to the Wal-Mart way, at home and abroad, are likely to change the far-flung empire.

Insightful, original, and steeped in the culture of retail life, The Retail Revolution draws on first hand reporting from coastal China to rural Arkansas to give a fresh and necessary understanding of the phenomenon that has transformed international commerce.

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Book Excerpts

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Shopping has become the most important thing we do to keep America's $13 trillion economy humming. It is the retailers, Wal-Mart first among them, who have become the key players in the worldwide marketplace of our time. They are the new business giants fueling the China boom, building huge container ports on every continent, and transforming the metropolitan landscape at home. Controlling more than half of all world trade, they make the markets, set the prices, and determine the worldwide distribution of labor to produce that

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Praise for The Retail Revolution

“A terrific book... Lichtenstein does a beautiful job of putting Wal-Mart in its historical context... A definitive account not only of Wal-Mart’s past but also of the forces shaping its future.”
Los Angeles Times
“Offers penetrating insights… Lichtenstein sheds valuable light on the technological reasons for Wal-Mart’s success… and provides a detailed look at the dark side of the company’s employment practices.… As Lichtenstein argues, Wal-Mart may have done more than any other American institution to undermine labor regulations.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Surely the best account we have of Wal-Mart’s metamorphosis from a backwater chain to the nation’s dominant corporation... The rise of Wal-Mart, and the national economy it has shaped in its image, is a story that Lichtenstein is eminently suited to tell.”
The American Prospect
“Usefully comprehensive… The Retail Revolution offers the best account yet of the myriad problems that Wal-Mart employees endure.”
The Big Money
“Comprehensive socioeconomic history… Lichtenstein paints a convincing portrait of a multinational conglomerate willing to dehumanize people in the pursuit of profit, even as it tries to convince us that people are its No. 1 concern. A definitive survey of Wal-Mart and the company’s worldview.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Nelson Lichtenstein has written the book on Wal-Mart. You can read it as a sober indictment of the rogue company that happens also to be the world’s largest corporation. Or you can read it as a brilliantly reported case study in what’s gone wrong with the American—and the global—economy. Either way, you will read it, as I did, with complete fascination.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
“America’s wisest historian of business and labor has produced a masterpiece of reportage and analysis about the self-service country store that grew into the biggest merchandiser in the world. The Retail Revolution is far more than the best book ever written about Wal-Mart. It is a landmark work about the history of our time.”
—Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
“This lively yet incisive account of Wal-Mart, one of our era’s most important economic institutions, challenges the claim that the company has been a boon to the U.S. economy, providing a thoughtful and much-needed perspective on inequality and insecurity in modern America.”
—Sanford M. Jacoby, author of The Embedded Corporation
“Lichtenstein’s calmly critical book sets the rise of Wal-Mart within its broader historical and cultural context, adding a valuable new perspective to the often fraught debate over the role of the world’s largest retailer.”
—Jonathan Birchall, U.S. consumer correspondent, The Financial Times
“Nelson Lichtenstein is the paramount authority on the world’s largest and most influential company, one that affects the lives of nearly all Americans and has transformed traditional business. In The Retail Revolution, original research and a profound understanding of American capitalism combine to produce a vivid account not only of how Wal-Mart has changed society, but how society in turn is now changing Wal-Mart.”
—Ron Galloway, director of Why Wal-Mart Works
“Readers wishing to grasp the brave new world of Wal-Mart in all its dimensions can’t do better than Nelson Lichtenstein’s engrossing and chilling account.”
—Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect

Reviews from Goodreads


About the Author

Nelson Lichtenstein

Nelson Lichtenstein is one of the country’s leading experts on labor and politics and the editor of a much-cited collection of essays on Wal-Mart. A professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy, he is also the author of several highly regarded books on American history, including the award-winning Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit.

Nelson Lichtenstein


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Available Formats and Book Details

The Retail Revolution
How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business
Nelson Lichtenstein

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Henry Holt and Co.
Metropolitan Books
July 2009
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429989718
ISBN10: 1429989718
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches, 320 pages

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
June 2010
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780312429683
ISBN10: 0312429681
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 432 pages

From The Publisher

Metropolitan Books

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