An Intimate history of Corporate imperialism

Too often, notions of capitalist change rely on the myth of the willful entrepreneur from the global North who transforms the economy and delivers modernity—for good or ill—to the rest of the world. In Cigarettes Inc.Nan Enstad creates an intimate cultural history that upends this story, revealing the myriad cross-cultural encounters that produced all levels of corporate life prior to World War II. 

In this startling new account of corporate innovation and expansion, Enstad uncovers a corporate network rooted in Jim Crow segregation that stretched between the United States and China. Hundreds of white southerners, bright leaf tobacco, cigarettes, and industry expertise flowed through this multinational network. Cigarettes, Inc. teemswith a global cast—from Egyptian, American, and Chinese entrepreneurs to a multiracial set of farmers, merchants, factory workers, marketers, and even baseball players, jazz musicians, and sex workers. Through their stories, Cigarettes, Inc. newly accounts for the cigarette’s spectacular rise in popularity and in the process offersnothing less than a sweeping reinterpretation of corporate power itself.

table of contents

Preface: Who Counts in the Corporation?


1 The Bright Leaf Cigarette in the Age of Empire

2 Corporate Enchantment

3 The Bright Leaf Tobacco Network

4 Making a Transnational Cigarette Factory Labor Force

5 Of Camels and Ruby Queens

6 The Intimate Dance of Jazz and Cigarettes

7 Where the Races Meet

Conclusion: Called to Account

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“Fluent. Ambitious. Transformative. Cigarettes, Inc. offers a revelatory look at the modern corporation and the many worlds it made and remade. From the tobacco fields and boardrooms of the Jim Crow South to the factories, farms, and merchant shops of Shanghai, Enstad reconstructs how American big business built a vast overseas empire held in place by millions of smokers, thousands of workers, dozens of capitalists, and one, mischievous little product—the mass-produced, bright leaf tobacco cigarette. Rolling the history of consumer culture, work, innovation and bald political power into a single, powerful account, what she’s done here is almost as impressive as how she’s done it.  Brilliant.”

N.D.B. Connolly, author of A World More Concrete

“With this remarkable book, Enstad redefines the cutting edge of the new history of capitalism. Transnational sweep and local texture cohabit in Cigarettes, Inc., as do searching examinations of corporate power and shrewd discussions of culture and style.”

David Roediger, author of How Race Survived US History

“Alongside the nation-state, the multinational corporation is one of the most powerful agents in modern history, yet our understanding of it is too often limited by heroic narratives of individual innovation or stunted accounts of businessmen and bureaucrats. With clarity and verve, Enstad grounds the corporate transformation of property, power, and production in the lives of the people who created, advertised, distributed, and consumed one of the twentieth century’s most destructive products. This engrossing and thickly peopled account of the cigarette’s rise in China and the United States is essential reading for all of us who live in the world remade by the corporate form—from the commanding heights of law and trade to the intimate intricacies of social relationship and human bodies.”

Bethany Moreton, Dartmouth College