The road not taken

We want bread, but roses, too[and time to smell them].

—Female textile workers in Lawrence,Massachusetts, 1912

After the horrors of the Civil War, a new, quieter conflict, ultimately more powerful in its impact, emerged in the United States. Two roads, as Robert Frost put it in his lovely poem “The Road Not Taken,” presented themselves to Americans, and after a period of indecision that lasted nearly a century, we chose one of them, “and that has made all the difference.”

Nineteenth-century Americans still had more respect for thrift than for spendthrifts, and the word consumption meant something different then. As ...

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