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To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of…

To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise

by Bethany Moreton

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If I hadn't been disenchanted by free enterprise before, I would be after reading this book. ( )
  echoindarkness | Dec 17, 2014 |
This book traces Wal-mart's development from a local store in the Ozarks to the largest corporation in the world. Moreton argues that it does this through adaptable business strategies that incorporated ideas of Christian service, family structure and free enterprise. She starts by showing how Sam Walton turned the disadvantages of being in Arkansas into advantages. He initially kept ownership to his family, then store managers and then the local areas so to contrast the national chains. He also tapped into the social structure of the area that put men in management and women as store workers. He developed a family structure for each store to develop employee loyalty and morale.

She shows that Wal-mart promoted Christian-style service and then brought in Christian business. This was not because of Walton's religious feeling, which appears to have been lukewarm, but because it made good business sense. Christian merchandise and events made a lot of money, so Wal-mart promoted them.

The book moves onto Wal-mart going national and exerting some influence on culture. It linked with Students in Free Enterprise to indoctrinate students in the value of capitalism and then recruit them into it management system. It helped fund evangelical schools in the Ozarks to promote free enterprise. It funded scholarships for Central Americans to study at those schools and then return how as apostles of the American system (free-enterprise and Christianity).

The section on international scholarships is when Wal-mart started to go global. But its big step was opening a store in Mexico, which Moreton says nearly single-handedly got NAFTA passed by showing how Mexicans wanted to buy American goods. Then she shows how Wal-mart led the way in creating a global supply chain and in opening outlets abroad.

This book is superbly researched, but has very little to link it together except that Wal-mart is in every chapter. It is basically a corporate history, which is useful to people interested in business, but each chapter is only loosely connected to the others so it seems disjointed. It is provides some interesting insight into the Ozarks, but beyond that, it isn't much use. I found her analysis of gender issues in the company to be inconsistent and unconvincing. There were definitely problems of gender there, but she doesn't show much on Wal-mart being different in wanting male executives. The section on NAFTA was interesting, but I will want to find some other analyses of ratification before I'll give too much weight to Moreton's findings.

Overall, I'd say skip it. ( )
  Scapegoats | Feb 18, 2014 |
The spectacular rise and astounding success of retail giant Wal-Mart has puzzled business observers for decades. How did someone who seems like nothing so much as a ‘hick from the sticks’ shepherd a single five and dime store in rural Arkansas, the heart of the anti-corporatist stronghold that had “fought against large corporations and for increased government safeguards,” into the largest corporation in the world? Author Bethany Moreton frames the story as “the Wal-Mart paradox.” According to her, Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, turned what for many would seem like insurmountable obstacles into defining advantages. By tapping directly into the social fabric of the rural communities in which his stores were located, Walton was able to dominate retail competition and force that same outlook out into the larger world as well.

Moreton tells the history of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart from Walton’s very earliest days as an entrepreneur in the Ozark Mountains. That area in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas is isolated, insular, and ideologically conservative. An area that had held onto a lifestyle of family farms far longer than most, it was also an area that opposed big business most stridently. As Moreton stated, it was an area that “suffered at the hands of Northern railroads, Eastern banks, and industrial monopolies that demonstrable extracted wealth in a semicolonial relationship with the hinterlands.” However, Walton was able to turn that mindset to his advantage by presenting his company as local.

Walton’s business plan called for only local investors, at first family members. Later, he offered his store managers the opportunity to become investors, which allowed him to avoid the ire of those most opposed to industrial monopolies. Walton could present his stores as locally owned and operated which gave him a distinct advantage over other mass retailers, such as Target and K-Mart which also opened their first stores in 1962. Once the first stores had shown a pattern of success, Walton added economic efficiencies to the mix.

Walton carefully planned the expansion of his company. New stores opened concentrically from the distribution center in Bentonville, Arkansas. His goal was that no store be more than a day’s drive from the center. Additionally, as the company spread, it moved outward one community at a time. This allowed for word of mouth to spread to the neighboring communities, thus ameliorating the need for advertising expenditures. Walton’s greatest entrepreneurial genius may have been demonstrated through his melding of a “populist corporate image” with an “evolving Christian culture.”

The stores were also structured on the traditional family units that had been prevalent on the farms, with the men at the head of the family and the women in a subservient role. This led to a management cadre that was almost exclusively male, and an entry level workforce that was almost as exclusively female. As Moreton described it, Walton took advantage of harsh economic times and used the fundamentalist bent of his community to his advantage in hiring and promoting workers. As Wal-Mart started adding stores, the Ozark communities in which they were being built were losing many family farms. Those women who were newly seeking employment outside the homestead for the first time were happy to receive the minimum wages jobs.

Additionally, Walton and the Wal-Mart managers have positioned their stores as the wholesome alternative to “big city” retailers, by really pushing “the whole family values thing.” Though eschewing such labels well into the 1990s, the company has wholeheartedly embraced this identity from that point forward. This may have been after conservative Christian leader Ralph Reed stated that “if you want to reach the Christian population on Sunday, you do it from the church pulpit. If you want to reach them on Saturday, you do it in a Wal-Mart.” By positioning the company in this way, Wal-Mart has been able to take advantage of the growing “Southernization” of America and expand the brand across the country and the globe.
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  ScoutJ | Mar 31, 2013 |
My low rating for this book is perhaps unfair and possibly inaccurate, but it reflects my reading experience. Moreton goes into painful detail on the ties between the evolution of Wal-Mart and how "a Christian service ethos powered capitalism at home and abroad." Her research is exhaustive, but I quickly became exhausted. This was way, way too long and she lost me in the minutiae. There were some interesting bits, but overall I found this very dull.

Part of the problem is that I expected a professor of history and women's studies to present more of a criticism of the retailer and the free enterprise system in general. Instead, at times this read like an apologia, as an earlier reviewer also noticed. Further, she completely lost me on the whole "service" slant to her argument since my admittedly limited experience with Wal-Mart evokes no memories of any service. Still, it's a professional, meticulously researched piece that might appeal to someone looking for an economic and cultural history. ( )
  Nickelini | Oct 22, 2012 |
This book was not at all what I expected. The book addresses the Christian beliefs of Wal-Mart's founders and a select few employees. This handful of people are the audience for the book. Not the average Wal-Mart shopper that is looking for God.
I wish I hadn't bought it. ( )
  swivelgal | Mar 7, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Fascinating... [it] attempt to come to grips with a perplexing economic mystery of our own day: the rapid rise and startling success of megaretailer Wal-Mart.
Moreton’s book answers important questions about why workers have been willing to accept Wal-Mart’s austere compensation package.
Bethany Moreton’s pathbreaking study, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise is an invaluable asset...A critical appraisal of how religion, politics, and economics were interwoven in post-Vietnam American culture and society, To Serve God and Wal-Mart is also a bracing reminder that we, among the most materialistic people in the world, have turned a blind eye to the impact of material conditions on our actions, attitudes, and beliefs.
[W]hen the focus departs from Wal-Mart and shifts to education, the book begins to meander... Nonetheless, the book’s first half makes for compelling and provocative reading.
added by Shortride | editPopMatters, Rob Horning (Jul 20, 2009)
Although Moreton's argument about gender is central and accounts brilliantly (if at times at a stretch) for the political phenomenon of the Sarah Palin–lovin' Wal-Mart Mom, her book is primarily an economic and business history... To understand the lingua franca of today's workplace — with its talk of networking, entrepreneurialism, leadership, community service, and, above all, PR and communications — this book is indispensable reading. After all, we all live in Wal-Mart World now.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674033221, Hardcover)

In the decades after World War II, evangelical Christianity nourished America’s devotion to free markets, free trade, and free enterprise. The history of Wal-Mart uncovers a complex network that united Sun Belt entrepreneurs, evangelical employees, Christian business students, overseas missionaries, and free-market activists. Through the stories of people linked by the world’s largest corporation, Bethany Moreton shows how a Christian service ethos powered capitalism at home and abroad.

While industrial America was built by and for the urban North, rural Southerners comprised much of the labor, management, and consumers in the postwar service sector that raised the Sun Belt to national influence. These newcomers to the economic stage put down the plough to take up the bar-code scanner without ever passing through the assembly line. Industrial culture had been urban, modernist, sometimes radical, often Catholic and Jewish, and self-consciously international. Post-industrial culture, in contrast, spoke of Jesus with a drawl and of unions with a sneer, sang about Momma and the flag, and preached salvation in this world and the next.

This extraordinary biography of Wal-Mart’s world shows how a Christian pro-business movement grew from the bottom up as well as the top down, bolstering an economic vision that sanctifies corporate globalization.

The author has assigned her royalties and subsidiary earnings to Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org) and its local affiliate in Athens, GA, the Economic Justice Coalition (www.econjustice.org).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:48 -0400)

"The world's largest corporation has grown to prominence in America's Sun Belt - the relatively recent seat of American radical agrarian populism - and amid a feverish antagonism to corporate monopoly. In the spirit of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? historian Moreton unearths the roots of the seeming anomaly of corporate populism, in a timely and penetrating analysis that situates the rise of Wal-Mart in a postwar confluence of forces, from federal redistribution of capital favoring the rural South and West to the family values symbolized by Sam Walton's largely white, rural, female workforce (the basis of a new economic and ideological niche), the New Christian Right's powerful probusiness and countercultural movement of the 1970s and '80s and its harnessing of electoral power. Giving Max Weber's Protestant ethic something of a late-20th-century update, Moreton shows how this confluence wedded Christianity to the free market. Moreton's erudition and clear prose elucidate much in the area of recent labor and political history, while capturing the centrality of movement cultures in the evolving face of American populism" -- www.amazon.com… (more)

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