Lears, T. J. Jackson 1947-
LEARS, T. J. Jackson 1947-
PERSONAL: Born July 26, 1947 in Annapolis, MD; married; children: one. Education: University of Virginia, B.A., 1969; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, M.A., 1973; Yale University, Ph.D., 1978.
CAREER: Educator, writer. Yale University, New Haven, CT, instructor in American Studies, 1977-79; University of Missouri, Columbia, assistant professor of U. S. History; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, Board of Governor's Professor of History.
MEMBER: American Historical Association, American Studies Association, Organization of American Historians.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 1981, for No Place of Grace: Anti-modernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920; Los Angeles Times Book Award in History, 1995, New Jersey—National Endowment for the Humanities Book Award, 1995, both for Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America; fellowships from Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, National Endowment for the Humanities, Smithsonian Institution, Winterthur Museum, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholarship, and Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Study, Princeton University.
No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1981.
(Editor, with Richard Wightman Fox) The Culture ofConsumption: Critical Essays in History, 1880-1980, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1983.
(Editor, with Richard Wightman Fox) The Power ofCulture: Critical Essays in American History, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1993.
Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Hilliard T. Goldfarb and Erica E. Hirshler) Sargent: The Late Landscapes, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, MA), 1999.
Something for Nothing: Luck in America, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Author of essays and reviews published in the New Republic, Nation, and other periodicals. Editor of Raritan.
SIDELIGHTS: Rutgers University professor T. J. Jackson Lears has specialized in U.S. cultural and intellectual history, as well as advertising in America, comparative religious history, literature and the visual arts, and folklore and folk beliefs. The Board of Governors Professor of History and editor-in-chief of the prestigious Raritan Quarterly Review, Lears is also the author of three well-received works of social history and coeditor of two additional titles, books which explore themes from American culture to consumption, advertising, modernism, and plain old luck.
Lears's first title, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920, brings together a plethora of primary sources, including letters, diaries, sermons, novels, essays, and poetry, to examine the origins of the antimodernism movement at the turn of the twentieth century. For Lears, this revolt from modern industrial society by Eastern intellectuals is indicative of a recurring theme in American cultural history. Individuals and groups turned from modernism, embracing instead a cult of the physical and spiritual, as well as taking part in movements such as the Arts and Craft style. As a result, and rather ironically, this movement also laid the groundwork for the consumer society of the twentieth century with its emphasis on self-fulfillment and individual gratification. A nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award, No Place of Grace was praised by Robert N. Bellah, writing in Commonweal. Bellah noted that Lears "admirably combines cultural and psychological analysis" in his study. John F. Kasson, writing in the Yale Review, commented that Lears's work "is an ambitious book: a cultural history that aims as well to stand as a work of cultural criticism with important ramifications for our own time." Kasson further commented that Lears's argument is "developed with a great deal of care, passion, and ingenuity." Kenneth S. Lynn, reviewing the same title in the New York Times Book Review, was less positive, complaining of a "lack of subtlety" on the part of Lears. John Leonard, writing in the New York Times, on the other hand, concluded that "Lears is to be congratulated for his splendid provocation."
Teaming up with Richard Wightman Fox, Lears contributed to and edited two volumes of critical essays in American history, the 1983 title, The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in History, 1880-1980, and The Power of Culture: Critical Essays in American History, in 1994. Both volumes won critical praise. A reviewer writing in Harper's noted that the "great value of The Culture of Consumption, a collection of provocative and energetically written essays. . . , is its evenhanded and systematic appraisal of how and why consumption so thoroughly shapes our lives." Lears penned the opening chapter, "From Salvation to Self-Realization," about the author of a 1925 bestseller, The Man Nobody Knows, which featured Christ as a CEO. William Leach, writing in the Nation, explained that The Culture of Consumption traces "the emergence and evolution of consumer culture from the 1890s to the present." Lary May, reviewing the work in the Los Angeles Times, found it a "stimulating book [that] provides essential reading for those interested in understanding a key element in our daily lives." Similarly, Daniel J. Czitrom, writing in the Journal of American History, called it an "important collection," and one that "no doubt will inspire imaginative new research and writing on a subject that it has rightly raised to a central place in the study of American cultural history."
In The Power of Culture, Lears and Fox gather nine essays in cultural history from a disparate group of writers and thinkers, creating a "sparkling collection," according to Gary Gerstle in the Journal of American History. Essays range from studies of nineteenth-century bourgeoisie to World War II propaganda to examinations of lost novels and modern sculpture. In bringing the various viewpoints together, Lears and Fox have, Gerstle further noted, "demonstrated the vitality and richness of the work in their field." Margaret Finnegan, writing in the American Quarterly, found this second collaborative effort a "commendable work of scholarship." Finnegan also commented that the contributors "touch on some of the most exciting and promising directions in this rapidly changing field." And for Jesse F. Battan, writing in the Journal of Social History, The Power of Culture "provides an excellent introduction to the recent scholarship associated with a vaguely defined but increasingly popular subfield: the 'new cultural history.'"
In Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America, Lears turns his attention to the world of Madison Avenue, as Elliott J. Gorn observed in the Journal of Urban History, to "get underneath the world of advertising, to understand the social origins, the epistemology, the achievements, and the self-delusions of those who marketed goods." Similarly, Alexander Star, reviewing the book in the New Republic, commented that Lears's "fascinating new book is in large part a history of Madison Avenue ambivalence, of advertisers' longstanding quest for legitimacy and self-confidence. . . . Part entrepreneur, part professional and part artist, the advertising man is the iconoclast at the center of capitalism." Gorn went on to comment that in this study "Lears gives us countless insights into the connections between art, literature, the social sciences, and the advertising industry. . . . Fables of Abundance is an important book that will be read for many years to come." A contributor for Publishers Weekly likewise found the same title an "imposing, highly illuminating study," and the Nation's Thomas Bender called it a "bold, original, subtle and important book." And writing in Sociology, Rachel Bowlby noted that Lears's "monumental Fables of Abundance is a detailed, readable and fascinating history of advertising in America."
In the 2003 title, Something for Nothing: Luck in America, Lears takes a new angle in his investigations of American cultural history, using the world of gambling as a metaphor and lens to examine the moral heart of America and how gambling and luck have shaped the culture of the United States. "Lears offers a history of conflicting attitudes toward luck," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, tracing such chance from the English colonists through the events of September 11, 2001, and blending readings in literature, history, economics, science, and philosophy. While the Publishers Weekly contributor felt that Lears's development sometimes became so large as to dwarf his original argument, the same writer concluded that still this "challenging, erudite and original book is a significant contribution to American cultural studies." Booklist's Brendan Driscoll also commended the book as a "highly readable social history," and Library Journal's Robert K. Flatley similarly called it a "thought-provoking and insightful book." But for Caleb Crain, writing in the New York Times Book Review, Lears's "definition of his subject" was in itself confusing: "Is his book concerned with gambling or with what Americans have made of gambling." Crain noted that as Lears expands the umbrella under which he can include new vignettes and studies, "his topic becomes unwieldy, and his writing sloppy." Dan Seligman, writing in the Wall Street Journal, also had difficulties with the "absence of data" in the book. Seligman wrote, "If there is a single statistic in the book, I missed it." However, a reviewer for the Economist was more positive, praising the "subtlety, density and intelligence of [Lears's] argument."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Quarterly, September, 1994, Margaret Finnegan, review of The Power of Culture: Critical Essays in American History, pp. 471-477.
Book March-April, 2003, Steve Wilson, review of Something for Nothing: Luck in America, p. 81.
Booklist, January 1, 2003, Brendan Driscoll, review of Something for Nothing, p. 817.
Business History Review, winter, 1995, Daniel Pope, review of Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America, pp. 569-571.
Commonweal, December 3, 1982, Robert N. Bellah, review of No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920, p. 661.
Economist (US), March 15, 2003, review of Something for Nothing.
Harper's, November, 1983, review of The Culture ofConsumption: Critical Essays in History, 1880-1980, p. 76.
Journal of American Culture, fall, 1994, Ray B. Browne, review of The Power of Culture, p. 90.
Journal of American History, March, 1985, Daniel J. Czitrom, review of The Culture of Consumption, pp. 888-889; September, 1994, Gary Gerstle, review of The Power of Culture, pp. 623-624.
Journal of Social History, spring, 1994, Jesse F. Battan, review of The Power of Culture, pp. 657-659.
Journal of Urban History, May, 1998, Elliott J. Gorn, review of Fables of Abundance, pp. 524-533.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of Something for Nothing, p. 1752.
Library Journal, February 1, 2003, Robert K. Flatley, review of Something for Nothing, pp. 101-102.
Los Angeles Times, Lary May, review of The Culture of Consumption, p. V28.
Nation, January 14, 1984, William Leach, review of The Culture of Consumption, pp. 20-22; November 7, 1994, Thomas Bender, review of Fables of Abundance, pp. 542-546.
National Review, April 17, 1995, David Garrard Lowe, review of Fables of Abundance, pp. 63-64.
New Republic, March 20, 1995, Alexander Star, review of Fables of Abundance, pp. 38-41.
New York Times, October 22, 1981, John Leonard, review of No Place of Grace, p. C24.
New York Times Book Review, January 10, 1982, Kenneth S. Lynn, review of No Place of Grace, pp. 8-9; March 9, 2003, Caleb Crain, review of Something for Nothing, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, October 31, 1994, review of Fables of Abundance, p. 52; December 9, 2002, review of Something for Nothing, p. 74.
Sociology, February, 1997, Rachel Bowlby, review of Fables of Abundance, p. 153-161.
Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2003, Dan Seligman, review of Something for Nothing, p. D6.
Yale Review, summer, 1982, John F. Kasson, review of No Place of Grace, pp. 601-604.
Pop Matters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (June 26, 2003), Vince Carducci, review of Something for Nothing.
Rutgers History Department,http://history.rutgers.edu/People/tlears.html/ (July 8, 2003), "T. J. Jackson Lears."
University of Chicago Press Web site,http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ (July, 2003), Dennis Hale, review of Something for Nothing.
Washington Post Online,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (February, 25, 2003).*