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Made in USA

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

From the Ferris wheel to the “flying boat,” from the box-like Model T to the silvery, cigar-shape of the Airstream trailer, and from the clanging of cash registers to the chattering of computer keys, Patton has pulled together a phenomenal number of objects and inventions that once boldly displayed the “made in America” label. Blending fact with anecdote, the author covers his subject in an interesting and organized manner.

Noting that the world’s perception of the United States as materialistic is a truthful one, Patton claims that “We have shown an almost desperate hunger for...objects of self-definition, objects to sum up our character, epitomize our industry, mark our history.” As the greatest of industrial giants, America’s pride in its products was once smugly reflected in the assumption that “American-made” meant the best in the world.

Patton goes on to highlight a number of characteristically American developments, including the country’s love affair with the great tail-finned cars of the 1950’s, and the successful integration of the 1930’s streamlined look into nearly every facet of American life—from New York’s famed Chrysler Building to the sleek, silver-clad toasters and plastic Bakelite radios that graced many homes. The design and marketing of the now ubiquitous refrigerator (once considered a household’s “centerpiece possession”) is detailed, as is the rise of the self-service industry, characterized by the proliferation of vending machines and Automats, streamlined gas stations, and fast-food drive-ins.

MADE IN USA will have particular appeal for history and nostalgia buffs. However, the author’s style is disappointingly choppy, and his overuse of esoteric references makes the average reader long for the secret password to his sometimes exclusive club.