Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (1995) by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton is the definitive study of how the PR industry's growth has undermined our ability to obtain the truth and operate within a system of democratic accountability. Be sure to check out The Center for Media and Democracy (Publishers of PR Watch)
Trust Us, We're Experts is the sequel by Stauber and Rampton that explores how corporate PR experts manipulate science and policy to delay action on pressing concerns such as global warming and blunt concerns about new technologies.
Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism is PR Watch regular contributor Sharon Beder's review of techniques used by the PR industry to weaken the environmental movement. Other books by Beder include Free Market Missionaries: The Corporate Manipulation of Community Values and Suiting Themselves: How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda.
The Power House: Robert Keith Gray and the Selling of Access and Influence in Washington tells the story of the former chairman of Hill and Knowlton, then the nation's most powerful PR firm.
Consumerism, Marketing and Commercialism:
Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business reveals the history of how corporations used brand and image-enhancement campaigns to gain acceptance and shed the common perception that they are cold, soulless commercial institutions.
Advertising on Trial: Consumer Activism and Corporate Public relations in the 1930s explores early attempts by then-powerful consumer activists who sought to limit corporate powers by rallying popular support to regulate advertising.
A Consumers' Republic by Lizabeth Cohen is a history of how materialism became synonymous with the American Dream, and how mass consumption gradually came to dominate postwar American culture.
Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (1994) by Jackson Lears explores the history of how advertising helped corporate America spread consumer culture.
The Commercialization of American Culture (1996) by Matthew McAllister explores how the advertising industry is constantly seeking new ways to reach consumers, infiltrating every aspect of our lives through niche marketing, database marketing, cross promotion, and other strategies, and how they emerged.
Marketing Madness (1995) by Michael Jacobsen and Laurie Ann Mazur explores the over-commercialization of culture and the many techniques used (product placement, marketing to children, junk mail) by corporate marketers. Also provides numerous examples of how people have organized resistance.
Affluenza (2001) examines the damage done to families, communities and the environment by the obsessive quest for material gain. This is a highly-engaging examination of various problems -- loneliness, rising debt, longer work hours, pollution, family conflicts and rampant commercialism.
The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (2003) by Michael Dawson is a subtle exploration of how the Trillion-dollar-a-year marketing industry uses scientific management principles to manipulate the lives of individual American consumers in a way that is similar to how Taylorites manipulated the minutiae of workers' lives.
Brand Name Bullies: The Quest to Own and Control Culture by David Bollier explores how corporations and corporate attorneys are increasing using copyright, trademark laws and other strategies to control culture.
Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld by James B. Twitchell explores how cultural institutions are adopting the strategy of branding.
Culture, Inc.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression by Herbert Schiller is a good overview of how corporations managed to increasingly control cultural institutions and other parts of society, effectively reducing non-commercial values and expression by shrinking the public sphere.
Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (2004) by Lawrence Lessig is an entertaining, carefully articulated and researched review of the current copyright wars and how large corporations use the law to stifle innovation. Lessig exposes the entertainment industry's effort to expand the definitions of piracy to appropriate additional portions of the digital commons. Along with his previous book, The Future of Ideas, and Dan Schiller's Digital Capitalism explore the corporate threat to open sources of knowledge, including the Internet.
The End of Politics: Corporate Power and the Decline of the Public Sphere by Carl Boggs is a political-cultural critique of the rise of corporate-centered market ideology, and how it has turned citizens into consumers and threatens to destroy the public sphere in modern democracies.
Christianity, Incorporated: How Big Business is Buying the Church (2002) by Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow explores how the church is becoming a "chaplain to capitalism" through business management tools like Jesus CEO. Also looks at corporate influences over church culture and doctrine, and examines the emerging "death industry" (i.e. corporatized funeral industry). A must-read for concerned Christians.
What's Love Got to Do With It: A Critical Look at American Charity (2001) by David Wagner. An exploration of how non-profit community-based organizations have been coopted and diverted from demanding radical social change.
One Market Under God is Baffler magazine co-founder Tom Frank's hilarious and incisive critique of the pseudo-economics behind the New Economy of the late 1990s and other forms of business blather. Be sure to check out his other books as well as the Baffler anthology, Boob Jubilee.
Commercialism and Children
Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet Schor examines how marketers target children in order to maximize corporate profit.
Giving Kids the Business: The Commercialization of America's Schools (1996) by Alex Molnar examines how marketers infiltrate public schools.
Stealing Innocence: Corporate Culture's War on Children (2000) by Henry Giroux dismantles the prevailing myth that democracy is related to the triumph of the market. He looks at phenomena such as nihilistic chic ad campaigns, childhood beauty pageants and other examples of how corporate culture preys on children.
The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception by Deborah Spar (Harvard Business School Press, 2006) exposes how the acquisition of children -- whether through donated eggs, rented wombs, or cross-border adoption -- has become a multibillion dollar business that has left science, law, ethics, and business deeply at odds.
Disney, The Mouse Betrayed: Greed Corruption, and Children at Risk by Peter and Rochelel Schweizer is a critical investigation of the company. For critical entertainment, read novelist Carl Hiaasen's Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World.