The McDonaldization of Society
by George Ritzer
Around 1904, legendary sociologist Max Weber wrote about the problems of what he called "rationalization" - how the continued drive towards more economically-efficient systems could have some hard-to-quantify human costs. George Ritzer's landmark 1993 book argues that "McDonaldization" is a powerful, modern form of Weber's rationalization, with the McDonald's model serving as a sort of template for all manner of developments in contemporary America. This book prefigures latter-day consumer-culture muckraking like Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" (which I recommend) and Naomi Klein's "No Logo" (see below), but it lacks the polemical fire and rhetorical flourish of those books. After all, Ritzer is a sociologist, not a journalist, and this book is straightforward, even-handed, somewhat shallow, and dry as a burnt piece of toast. Ritzer's analysis is insightful; it would've been nice if this book could've been more engaging.
Sum-up: An important book, but I wish it were a better read
by Naomi Klein
1999, with additional essays from 2002 and 2009
Here are some of the things I'm likely to see when I go into the city: McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, Verizon phones, Nintendo games, Starbucks, Nike, Pepsi, The Gap, iPods. First published in 1999, "No Logo" is Klein's influential look at the destructiveness of brand-name culture and the social movements springing up in opposition to it. Klein is a talented and engaging writer - she presents clear-headed muckraking with measured bursts of idealism, and with "No Logo" we get: an aesthetic history of the modern brand, an examination of how the growth of large companies actually leads to fewer decent jobs and less consumer choice, a look at how branding has insinuated itself into language and communication, a powerful section on how the short-sightedness of 90s identity politics allowed the movement to be co-opted by corporations and, in the 10th-anniversary edition, thoughts on how Barack Obama - a status-quo politician with revolutionary appeal - represents a triumph in style-over-substance branding. The book is a bit dated by now, though (it includes a lot of case-studies and then-current data from over 10 years ago). Sadly, the areas where the book feels most dated (other than the talk of once-mighty cultural institutions like AOL and the Virgin Megastore) are where Klein writes on the budding resistance movements which eventually lost their traction or fell apart in the rapidly shifting post-9/11 political landscape. That said - even with all that's happened in the past 11 years, this book is still highly relevant; we're still very much living in a branded world. If you don't believe me, just take a step outside...
Sum-up: Powerful, informative and worth reading, if a bit dated by now