Traditional narratives of capitalist change often 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. With Cigarettes, Inc., Nan Enstad upends this story, revealing the myriad cross-cultural encounters that produced corporate life before World War II.
In this startling account of innovation and expansion, Enstad uncovers a corporate network rooted in Jim Crow segregation that stretched between the United States and China and beyond. Cigarettes, Inc. teems with 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. accounts for the cigarette’s spectacular rise in popularity and in the process offers nothing less than a sweeping reinterpretation of corporate power itself.