James P. Woodard's history of consumer capitalism in Brazil, today the world's fifth most populous country, is at once magisterial, intimate, and penetrating enough to serve as a history of modern Brazil itself. It tells how a new economic outlook took hold over the course of the twentieth century, a time when the United States became Brazil's most important trading partner and the tastemaker of its better-heeled citizens. In a cultural entangling with the United States, Brazilians saw Chevrolets and Fords replace horse-drawn carriages, railroads lose to a mania for cheap automobile roads, and the fabric of everyday existence rewoven as commerce reached into the deepest spheres of family life.
The United States loomed large in this economic transformation, but American consumer culture was not merely imposed on Brazilians. By the seventies, many elements once thought of as American had slipped their exotic traces and become Brazilian, and this process illuminates how the culture of consumer capitalism became a more genuinely transnational and globalized phenomenon. This commercial and cultural turn is the great untold story of Brazil's twentieth century, and one key to its twenty-first.