Rearing Children of the Market in the "You" Decade: Choose Your Own Adventure Books and the Ascent of Free Choice in 1980s America

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Exploring some of the key tenets of neoliberal American culture, this article examines the historical forces behind the meteoric rise of interactive "Choose Your Own Adventure"(CYOA) children's books in the 1980s. Despite selling over 250 million copies worldwide and becoming the fourth most popular children's series of all time, the CYOA phenomenon has yet to be placed in its larger social, economic, historical or cultural context. When explaining the rise of interactive narratives, previous literature has mostly focussed on technological change - namely the invention of video games, computer consoles and hypertext narratives. Moving away from such claims, this article demonstrates how the incredible success of solely text-based CYOA books stemmed largely from the cultural ascent of individual market choice to the heart of American notions of agency, liberty, subjectivity and selfhood in the 1970s and 1980s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-445
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of American Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A historian of capitalism, Eli Cook is an Assistant Professor of American History at the University of Haifa in Israel and head of the American Studies Program. His book, The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life, was published in  by Harvard University Press. It received the Society for US Intellectual History Best Book Award as well as the Morris D. Forkosch Prize for best book on intellectual history. Special thanks to the participants of the History of Consumer Culture Conference at Gakushuin University in Tokyo as well as the members of the Tel Aviv Neoliberalism Workshop for their useful comments on earlier drafts. This study was partially funded by an Israel Science Fund grant.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies 2020.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)
  • Social Sciences (all)


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