Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle

Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle

by Andrea Hiott

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Sometimes achieving big things requires the ability to think small. This simple concept was the driving force that propelled the Volkswagen Beetle to become an avatar of American-style freedom, a household brand, and a global icon. The VW Bug inspired the ad men of Madison Avenue, beguiled Woodstock Nation, and has recently been re-imagined for the hipster generation. And while today it is surely one of the most recognizable cars in the world, few of us know the compelling details of this car’s story. In Thinking Small, journalist and cultural historian Andrea Hiott retraces the improbable journey of this little car that changed the world.
Andrea Hiott’s wide-ranging narrative stretches from the factory floors of Weimar Germany to the executive suites of today’s automotive innovators, showing how a succession of artists and engineers shepherded the Beetle to market through periods of privation and war, reconstruction and recovery. Henry Ford’s Model T may have revolutionized the American auto industry, but for years Europe remained a place where only the elite drove cars. That all changed with the advent of the Volkswagen, the product of a Nazi initiative to bring driving to the masses. But Hitler’s concept of “the people’s car” would soon take on new meaning. As Germany rebuilt from the rubble of World War II, a whole generation succumbed to the charms of the world’s most huggable automobile.
Indeed, the story of the Volkswagen is a story about people, and Hiott introduces us to the men who believed in it, built it, and sold it: Ferdinand Porsche, the visionary Austrian automobile designer whose futuristic dream of an affordable family vehicle was fatally compromised by his patron Adolf Hitler’s monomaniacal drive toward war; Heinrich Nordhoff, the forward-thinking German industrialist whose management innovations made mass production of the Beetle a reality; and Bill Bernbach, the Jewish American advertising executive whose team of Madison Avenue mavericks dreamed up the legendary ad campaign that transformed the quintessential German compact into an outsize worldwide phenomenon.
Thinking Small is the remarkable story of an automobile and an idea. Hatched in an age of darkness, the Beetle emerged into the light of a new era as a symbol of individuality and personal mobility—a triumph not of the will but of the imagination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345521446
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/17/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 559,047
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Andrea Hiott was born in South Carolina and graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Georgia in Athens. She then went to Berlin to study German and neuroscience, and ended up staying and working as a freelance journalist. In 2005, alongside a group of international artists and writers, she cofounded a cultural journal called Pulse. She now serves as editor-in-chief.

Read an Excerpt


William Bernbach did not look like a revolutionary. His sober meticulous suits and conservative ties did not catch the eye or distinguish him from any of the other advertising men walking New York City's bustling streets in the 1950s. Thin and compact, with short dark hair neatly combed to one side, Bill had a small physique that was almost childlike. True, he was the creative head of his own advertising agency-Doyle Dane Bernbach, soon to be familiarly known as DDB-but he didn't come off as a typical executive of the time: his evenings were rarely full of expensive dinner parties or multiple martinis, he wasn't embroiled in a string of heated affairs, he didn't own a pristine country home, or live in a fancy penthouse uptown. Instead, for much of his life, Bill lived in an anonymous neighborhood in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, he took the subway into work each day, and he left on time every night to go home and have dinner with his kids and his wife.

Bill may not have looked like the kind of man who could catch the world's attention, but he was, and by the late 1950s, people were beginning to notice him. Unlike the rest of the cookie-cutter ad agencies on Madison Avenue, DDB had a fresh sense of purpose filling its rooms, drawing people in. Walking into their offices in those days, through the haze of cigarette smoke, past the ringing phones and the interactive rush of talented young men and women, one always found Bill Bernbach at the center of the buzz, his Brooklyn-tinged voice- simultaneously gentle and disarming-leaking out of his office and into the halls, his door always open. There was something alluring about his clear, blue-eyed gaze, and as the years passed, Bill rose to be known as the creative center of his agency, the person all the art directors and copywriters wanted to speak to about their work, the man who could get that work into print, or make it disappear without a trace. Bill was confident, and his confidence became DDB's backbone. It's what made so many want to be near him-his approval was a good luck charm of sorts-but it was also what made people hide from him at times, unsure or unready to face his clear and veracious eye. There were no rules with Bill; only vigilance.

The crew at DDB was a motley and roughish bunch, in no way typical of most advertising agencies in New York. In certain younger circles, DDB was considered one of the only ad agencies where a person could work on something different, something exciting, something "meaningful," if you dared to use that term. Whereas other successful agencies at the time were full of serious-faced men in expensive suits, DDB was more like an experimental powwow. Art and writing were respected as crafts within themselves rather than as the means to a financial end. DDB employees worked in teams; they communicated and sparred. Those who witnessed this process called it creative, in a way that the advertising world had never really seen before.

DDB was different, and different was exciting. But that didn't mean the agency was going to leave its mark. In the larger scheme of things, DDB was more likely to be beaten by the establishment than it was to change it. After all, in 1959, the majority of Americans had never encountered a DDB ad. When it came to the heavyweights of economics and industries, DDB was small: They didn't have any of the accounts that mattered-no car company from Detroit, no major tobacco brand, no national retail chain.

And there was something else, too. In business terms, DDB was often dismissed as a quirky place that did "ethnic" advertising, a crude way of saying that most people considered DDB a Jewish company that did "unabashedly, recognizably Jewish" ads. Most of their clients were Jewish. Bill Bernbach was Jewish. And many on the staff were Jewish as well. Thus DDB's success was a local success: advertisements for El Al airlines or Ohrbach's department store caught the eye but had a limited scope, catering strictly to Manhattan and its boroughs. Bernbach's shop was no more a threat to the established giants than were the strange beatniks and folk singers who had started congregating downtown.

Advertising was incredibly lucrative in those days though, and the big agencies were prospering. Their ads showed beautiful and successful people enjoying a product, and upon seeing such stimulation, customers were supposed to be stimulated too. This underlying equation of "consumption equals happiness" had proven appeal: America's culture of materialism was thriving, fed on eye-popping advertisements for big houses, big cars, big smiles, and big words. It was the decade of dazzle, and yet as that decade entered its final year, some began to wonder if any of it had been real. The country's foundations no longer seemed so solid. A recession eventually set in, and it wasn't solely economic. The spirit of the country began to change; there was a sense of disquiet. As poet Allen Ginsberg wrote in the Village Voice in 1959: "No one in America knows what will happen. No one is in real control." The country was begging for a shift in perspective, and that would mean taking risks and thinking strange.

And DDB epitomized thinking strange. Take Bill's newest choice of projects, for instance: a German car that, for more than one reason, looked like an impossible sale. Manhattan's major agencies were making millions advertising the cars of Detroit: Buick, Lincoln, Chrysler, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Ford-these were the brand names Americans craved and bought. One such advertisement for Pontiac depicted a large crowd chanting, "We're everybody_._._._and we want a Big Car_._._." Even the sound of the door closing had to be big. As the general manager of Chevrolet boasted in 1957, "We've got the finest door slam this year we've ever had-a big car slam._._._."

The Volkswagen, a car Americans would later nickname the "The Beetle," seemed to represent the opposite of such a desire. Though it had been trying to enter the market ever since that first transatlantic trip in 1949, its overall sales compared to the numbers coming out of Detroit were laughable, barely a blip on America's automotive map. Some at DDB couldn't help but wonder if perhaps Bill wasn't wasting his time with Volkswagen's little car. Foreign companies just weren't a market that big advertising agencies in the United States were courting in those days, and, lack of monetary gain aside, a Jewish advertising agency representing a German car just wasn't the most likely combination. Nevertheless, Bill wanted Volkswagen's business: He had a thing or two he wanted to say about the concept of bigness he saw many American corporations and advertising firms touting, and he had no qualms about flying overseas to Wolfsburg and visiting a German car factory in order to have that chance. He soon found out, however, that few others at DDB felt the same way. More than ten years had passed since the end of the war, but some wounds had not healed and the anger it had fostered still simmered. Feelings had been held in, papered over. After all, this was the car that The New York Times had referred to as the "Baby Hitler" in 1938, and while it's been said that no baby is ugly, this one certainly had a unique face.

Trekking to a country that Americans had once hated about as much as anyone could hate a place, meeting with former enemies who had fought on the side of the Nazis during the Second World War, having to find the good points about a car that, when people were being generous, was described as "a motorized tortoise" or a "pregnant roller skate"- needless to say, it wasn't the most attractive account that Bill could have offered his staff. Nevertheless, the men Bill eventually convinced to work on the account-a beatnik Jewish boy (Julian Koenig), a loudmouthed Greek who always seemed to be getting himself into hot water (George Lois), and a German American who had very unresolved feelings about his parents' German past (Helmut Krone)-would come together and, in a moment of seemingly fated timing, set a fire under Madison Avenue, and the entire nation beyond.


Adolf Hitler's eyes were reportedly "bright blue-bordering on the violet." In the psychological reports done on him in the 1940s by the OSS (a precursor to the CIA), there is mention of his "hypnotic glance" and the ability of his eyes to "bore through people." One policeman describes Hitler's gaze as "fatal," with an "irresistible glare." But by other accounts, his eyes are "dead" and "lacking in brilliance and the sparkle of genuine animation." Perhaps all of these descriptions are true. When I look at his portrait today, however, I have to admit that I don't see an incomprehensible monster: I see a man who sensed the power available to us all, and then violently abused it, brutalizing and destroying millions of lives, including his own. It's hard to imagine living in a city that was founded by such a man, but every citizen in Wolfsburg lives with that legacy. Without Adolf Hitler, their town would never have been born.

The town's original name wasn't even Wolfsburg. At the time of its official creation, the town was being made to house the factory for a car, and the entire project was being funded by a division of the Nazi German Labor Front (the DAF) called Strength through Joy. Thus, in May of 1938, Adolf Hitler christened Wolfsburg "The Town of the Strength through Joy Car," the town of the Volkswagen. Volkswagen was a generic term being used in technical and automotive circles at the time to mean a car for the common man, something still thought impractical and impossible in Germany by most. The idea of a Volkswagen carried a lot of power: To speak of motorizing the population was to speak of giving people more control over their lives, an idea that evoked both awe and desire. As one German automotive writer named Wilfried Bade proclaimed in 1938: "Until now the automobile has conquered the world. Now begins the true possession of the automobile by the people." The dream of the car, and the dream of the city being built for it, went hand in hand. Each spoke to the masses, each served as a symbol of unification, and each was directly linked to strengthening the nation through industry- all major aspects of the Nazi conception of power that was taking hold of the country then.

Hitler's Town of the Strength through Joy Car was originally created to be a "model German workers' city," an urban and residential center that incorporated the Third Reich's emphasis on unified work. Just as the People's Car was supposed to be a car that all Germans would drive, Hitler wanted its city to be a model on which all industrial towns could be built. It was to be a place of common purpose, where men and women worked together toward the realization of a singular goal, the ultimate point being the strengthening of Germany. Industry, alongside loyalty and labor, would structure the nation, make the Fatherland strong.

The hope for a People's Car had been rising in Europe for over twenty years. It was a kind of leitmotif, in fact, recurring regularly though never resolved; automobiles were driven only by the rich and elite. Hitler was the first person to come to power in Europe who saw the mass production of automobiles as an essential industrial and national aim. He envisioned a great motorized nation, a nation that could expand and expand and expand. Germany needed more Lebensraum, more living space, he told the citizens. The motor car was a natural part of that plan.

Hitler came to power in 1933 with cars on his mind and his agenda, but the process was full of twists and turns and it was only five years later, in the spring of 1938, that it began to look as if his goal might be achieved. The first steps toward Volksmotorisierung, motorizing the people, were being made, and the erection of the new auto city was proof. Land for the enormous car factory had been found, and Albert Speer, the Inspector General for Building in Berlin at that time, had approved the location. Plans had been drawn up, an engineer had been hard at work on prototypes of the car. It was time for the cornerstone of the factory to be laid, time to celebrate the coming wave of vehicles with pride, and on May 26, 1938, the Nazis planned an elaborate fête in The Town of the Strength through Joy Car on May 26, 1938.

The German Labor Front sent invitations to over 50,000 people, though they were not invited so much as ordered to attend. Trumpets blared. Long bloodred banners were unfurled. Twenty-eight special Town of the Strength through Joy Car-bound trains left from all parts of the country and carried the citizens to the grounds where they were promised the new industrial town was soon to rise. This place, the propaganda promised, would be better than any American city, and Germany's new car factory would be better than anything yet built by America's automotive hero Henry Ford. Members of the Hitler Youth and the SS marched. The workers were on show: Bricklayers were given pristine white outfits and black top hats to wear; carpenters were decked out in black velvet and corduroy. Everyone raised his arm as Hitler appeared, arriving in the front seat of one of the prototypes of his Strength through Joy Car. People pointed at the new automobile, and discussed it; perhaps they imagined owning one, too. For those who couldn't make it to the opening ceremony, a radio show was broadcast, one of the first of its kind, detailing Hitler's every move. It was supposed to be a day of triumph, but spectators who were there would later report there was a strange tension in the air, a kind of growing apprehension.

Perhaps it was the chancellor's aloofness that sent such an impression reverberating through the crowd. He certainly wasn't himself that day. In previous automotive events, Hitler had always been fervent, even joyful, as he talked passionately about this project's potential. On the day of the ceremony, however, the car was no longer at the forefront, or even close to the forefront of Hitler's mind: By the spring of 1938, a new reality was setting in and other parts of his grand scheme were now in motion as well. Hitler's focus was not on the People's Car that day because he was preoccupied with the war that he knew was imminent. His desired moment had arrived. Already Austria had been annexed, had come too willingly, some would say. And the pogrom of the Crystal Night (Kristallnacht) was only six months away-that horrific and incendiary evening in which hundreds of synagogues were set on fire, Jewish shops and homes were destroyed and plundered, the shattered glass of their windows littering the streets, and around 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps or killed. The political air in Germany was toxic, but few were aware of the noxious fumes that surrounded them. The celebration for the car was in many ways a perfect metaphor for the mood of the country: lush decoration slathered onto a deepening sense of unrest. People looked at the spectacle and tried not to notice the anxiety swelling underneath.

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Thinking Small 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
AdStudentMidwestern More than 1 year ago
This book is a call back to what really matters in the commerical world. I had to skip some of the parts about all the car details but those places were few and far between. The story of Bill Bernbach and the symoblic value of the Beetle Bug is really eye-opening and I had no idea of either of these things, or of the way it is possible for one little man and one little car to speak truth to power.
Quijote8464 More than 1 year ago
A fascinating read on Hitler's strong headed determination for developing the people's car and Porsche's design genius behind the dream. The story is well written and difficult to put down. I highly recommend.
AARP47 More than 1 year ago
"Thinking Small sometimes resembles the improbable subplot of a John Le Carré novel [with] Hiott deftly weaving the many strands -- social, economic, cultural -- that made the VW part of the American fabric." Gregory McNamee, AARP
SamTanake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got an early copy of this at the independent bookshop down the road. It wasn't what I expected, but I really liked it a lot. It's more of a pop culture and history and philosophy book. But it also reads like a novel.
HippieLunatic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While I own a 1968 Beetle, and I have loved them from the moment I first laid eyes on them (granted, long after 1968), I have to admit, I knew very little of its history. This book provides it, in abundance. The depth of the book is overwhelming, and to this reader, it was a bit chaotic, jumping from manufacturer, to political history, to advertising agencies and back again within mere pages. Hiott is obviously completely in love with the subject matter, but at times, she was almost too close to the car for a scholarly work, which this is trying to be, given the massive amounts of information. The jumps between given name and family name to reference figured in the Beetle's past was frustrating, when the reader has no clue who this person is outside of Hiott's book. The randomness of "I" statements is completely out of place, as Hiott gives the reader her own take on critical moments and people in the Bug's history.All in all, a well valued book for how much insight it gave me into the building and the success of the VW Beetle, but often difficult to parse, and not a light read.
Jane723 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Overall great read. This book is complicated: it reads very easily, like a novel, and yet it takes a lot of thinking and there's a lot of depth. At parts (few and far between), too many VW facts for me, but the story of VW Bug and especially of the ad world (I never thought of how connected it all is before, and this book makes those connections, the threads eventually come together and you see how the bigger picture looks).
Auj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you love history and cars, then this is the book for you. Thinking Small is the in depth story of the Volkswagen Beetle and it really does go deep. It is the history of Germany and Hitler's connection to the Beetle, a biography of Ferdinand Porsche and other German automotive men. It is a fascinating story, but the book itself can appear intimidating since it has over 420 pages. There are illustrations and it is very interesting to see the old black and white photos. However, they are quite small and can be difficult to see. I asked for this book since my husband's family bought a VW beetle in the late 1950's and it is still in the family. I thought they would be interested in this as well. I only gave three stars because I had a difficult time getting through it since I am not a history buff.
pinklady60 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of the Volkswagen Beetle and how it came to be. No detail is spared, from the conception of the car to the sales and service points and everything in between, including World War II and Hitler¿s influence on bringing a car to the masses. I found the story of the ad campaigns to sell the Beetle in the United States fascinating. This story of the Beetle is not necessarily told in chronological order and my interest waned as I found it difficult to keep track of the various people and time periods.
elektherelic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thinking Small is a complex story written straightforwardly in an easy to follow fashion. Hiott does a wonderful job of interweaving the stories of several key players throughout the book, seamlessly transitioning from one chapter of the Beetle's to the next. I would have liked more details about what was happening between Porshe and Hitler towards the end Hitlers life, when things seemed to be spiraling out of control, but overall Hoitt details their relationship and the early period of conception of the car wonderfully. As we move out of Porshe's life and into government control, Hiott does a great job keeping the reader interested by introducing not only new players in the car's life, but also by drawing us into the story behind the people who would eventually have an impact on the car. (i.e. the beginnings of DDB.) Here the book could have gotten skewed into a DDB book, because their story is just so fascinating, but she does a good job of pulling back the reigns, after telling us their story, and focusing on their stake in the story. While I thought the book was great, there were a few flaws that nagged me. First, throughout the book Hiott postulates things that we have no way of knowing whether or not are true. For example, there are several times when sentences are structured like so: "seeing all this, he must have felt proud" or "one can imagine him thinking about his life". (These are NOT direct quotes, but they highlight the style of writing that rubbed me the wrong way. Second, there is a shift toward the end where she begins writing in first person, after 300 and some pages of third. I felt that these two flaws weekend the book by making it less of a historical reference piece and making it a bit too personal for my taste. That being said, I am glad to have read this book and would recommend it. It took me a while to read because there is so much information, but it is well worth digging into.
drudmann on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very informative book about the VW Beetle. Packed with information, and very readable. The length (over 400 pages) and the sheer amount of details makes it probably best suited for automobile history buffs. Maybe a narrative arc other than a chronological one would have made it a little easier to navigate; I wonder if books like this will be ideal for the day when the author can publish a shorter ebook version that has links to extra supplemental information. This would allow for the same amount of information but reduce some of the smaller details for those who din't need it.
blaircai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Andrea Hiott's "Thinking Small" provides an in-depth look at the history of the Volkswagen beetle through accounts of the individuals responsible for its existence and global popularity. Hiott starts at the very beginning, discussing the history of the automobile industry and putting a strong emphasis on the German industry and political environments that eventually gave rise to "the people's car". "Thinking Small" focuses primarily on the car's creator Ferdinand Porsche, its patron Adolf Hitler, and its American promoter Bill Bernbach."Thinking Small" is a smart book. This is a conceptually strong and easily read book. It certainly takes a unique approach to studying automotive history in focusing on personal narratives of the individuals responsible for the car; this fact keeps the book moving and the reader captivated. However, the disjointed flow of "Thinking Small" makes it hard to follow at times, and the author's excessive use of simile is distracting. On my initial reading, this book felt at times as though it was dictated by an enthusiastic expert on the subject whose trains of thought were constantly interrupted by other exciting thoughts -- in this way, I simultaneously enjoyed and was frustrated to consume it.As a history book, I would recommend "Thinking Small". The discussions of everything from Bill Bernbach's start as an ad man Porsche's decision to start his own company seem well-sourced and incredibly detailed. However, for a bit of light reading, this book is a bit more difficult to follow than necessary.
AliceKathleen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book I wanted to love. My husband and I had two different bugs when we were first married. The beginning of the book gives some great background on Ferdinand Porsche, the designer of the first bug. Once through that, the book bogs down trying to cover too much of the history of Germany, the Depression, Henry Ford's influence, you name it. I think Hitler's part in developing the People's car is the most interesting and ironic part of the book. The advertising as such a major part less so. I know of one ad campaign not mentioned having to do with squeezing all the residents of a very small town in Nevada into a VW camper bus. That included the dog. This book needed to be squeezed into a smaller space.
sherman1951 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Andrea Hiott¿s history of ¿the People¿s car¿ - the Volkswagen Beetle - is a book about both the car and the people who made it possible. From its original designer, Ferdinand Porsche, to Hitler¿s plan that desired to mirror Henry Ford¿s success with the Model T, to the marketing genius of America¿s Mad Man Bill Bernbach which eventually made the Beetle one of the most successful cars in history (over 21 million produced), Ms. Hiott attempts to place the almost 100 year history of the car in context. While the story at many levels is interesting, this expansive view is probably a little over the top. She is best at telling the story of the Beetle and some of the key men who nurtured it to market. However, the story is filled with historical side lines that add volume to the book, but little else. But if your interested in how the Beetle went from a Nazi symbol to America¿s counter-culture icon in the 1960s there is a lot of good material here. Just plan on skimming a lot. The book is timed to coincide with the introduction of the ¿new¿ Beetle which interestingly enough may have a design closer to Porsche¿s original view than the car many of us loved, drove and owned. The Beetle did unleash a revolution of ¿thinking small¿ that ultimately turned America¿s Big Three car manufacturer¿s on their heads.
bwightman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. This book covers the story of the early years of the Volkswagen company through various angles, including the founder, Ferdinand Porsche, but also through the US advertising firm that was responsible for bringing the Beetle into America's consciousness, and through the post-war factory manager that helped the company recover from its near death immediately after the war.I found this book to be easy to read and impeccably researched. While there were parts that may have gotten a little too deep in the details, I think the author does an excellent job of bringing to life the motivations behind building the first People's Car (from the perspective of both Porsche and Hitler). I wish there had been a little more focus on the later years as well, aside from the impact that the VW advertisements had on sales, as well as the advertising culture of the time. All in all, I think this is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in Volkswagen, the Beetle, or the postwar economy of Germany. It really is remarkable how the Beetle finally came to be after so many false starts, and this book tells that story very well.
loafhunter13 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book "Think Small" is a thoughtful look at the history of the Volkswagen, its creators, and those that sold it to the world. The book looks that the early lives of the creators of the car and how their talents/relationship were responsible for the product we know both from history and today. It goes on further to examine how a few influential and persistent people managed to sell the stigmatized car to a larger market by looking at their backgrounds and motivations. The background of the book is well-thought out. Holt does a great job in playing with a historical subject, making it readable but obviously well-researched at the same time. While her dissection of the lives of historical figures like Porsche and Hitler can come off as trite, her use of language and ability to tie multiple stories together make the text pop. She prevents her subject with enthusiasm and has sequenced the outline that makes this a hard book to put down. Andrea Holt has created a very interesting history book and managed to tie several major historical themes into a very interesting story of one of the most iconic cars in modern history. Her writing is intelligent but colloquial enough to make this book fun to read. Recommended.
jacobusp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thinking Small, by Andrea Hiott, blends the historical background of the Volkswagen Beetle against the backdrop of Hitler, WWII, and the advertising revolution of the later 50s and 60s. Starting with the beginnings of the automobile industry and the design genius of the Porsche family, the book quickly shifts to the rise of Hitler and his heavy involvement in manufacturing the "People's Car" -- the Volkswagen. Post-WWII, Hiott shifts focus to the Occupation of Germany and the rebuilding of industry across Europe, including Nordoff's legacy at the Wolfsburg manufacturing plant. The last phase of the book focuses on the highly successful advertising campaign in the 60s, which catapulted the Beetle onto the world's market. Overall, an entertaining book which serves to open our eyes to a bit of history, centered on a beloved automobile.
btuckertx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really looking forward to reading Thinking Small, by Andrea Hiott. What was not to like? It promised to cover a lot of ground that interests me: history of the Volkswagen Beetle, Porsche's involvement, etc. I found, however, that at 420+ pages, the book was about 400 pages too long; it might have been an interesting feature article for a magazine.Perhaps that's a little harsh. I think I would have enjoyed a more linear approach to the history - I didn't really see the point to jumping back and forth to Doyle Dane Bernbach. Unless the idea was to gain a more immediate buy-in from the American reader, it made little sense. And I should make full disclosure here: she nearly lost me the first time she wrote "one of the only¿". I drifted off course even more the 2nd time I read it. I don't care if that phrase is now considered "in general usage", wrong is still wrong. I hope her editors catch this.
jpporter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was sort of expecting something like a coffee-table book - lots of color pictures, some interesting facts about Beetles, something interesting, informative, entertaining. I was wrong.Thinking Small is a serious, lengthy, well-researched history of Germany, circa 1900-1950, wherein the Volkswagen Beetle is but the focal point for a discussion of the cultural, social, political and economic environment in Germany , particularly post-WWI. It is almost amazing that, within over 400 (500+, counting footnotes, bibliography, and sundry details) pages, there is actually very little extended discussion of the car itself. Most of the discussion is about Fernando Porsche of the Porsche's, and his dream of making a car that would be accessible to the common person, perhaps as a way of compensating for his dream of making really fast sports cars.Ultimately, this book is a history/biography (biographies?) of the people who would influence the Beetle, rather than of the car (or the company) itself. Only in the last 1/4 of the book is there any attempt to focus on the most distinctive car in automotive history and the (now massive) company that produces it. And even here, there is too much attention paid to intra-familial squabbles.An undeserved substantial portion of the book is devoted to Hitler, who did play an important role in the V-Dub's genesis, but there are tons of repetition throughout the first two-thirds of the book about Hitler's involvement with the car, most of which consisted of duplicitous dealings, self-aggrandizing pomposity and political gamesmanship. There is an excessively long, meandering, account of the advertising firm that would ultimately popularize the Beetle in America, the people who put it together, the type of creative atmosphere they tried to construct, and the firm's impact on American advertising since 1950.Volkswagen does receive the attention it deserves for having radically altered the automotive environment post-WWII, but this almost seems as if it were tossed in as an afterthought. Very little discussion is devoted to what was one of the masterpieces of automotive construction: the fact that the VW was virtually air-tight (much fun was made in a latter-20th century movie about some criminals trying to shoot a Beetle they had driven into a lake, but refused to sink), utilized an aluminum engine block to eliminate the need for water-cooling systems, was designed so that even in the coldest climates it could be started like a lawn mower (one of the more common sights in northern North Dakota, come January).In 1971 I had a choice between buying a used 1970 Ford Maverick and a brand-new 1971 Super Beetle (roughly the same price). I have ever since regretted choosing the Ford.If you are a history buff, this is perhaps a good book. This would also make good reading for students in advertising, or for people interested in becoming ultimately defunct dictators. If you are an automobile enthusiast, or a Beetle enthusiast, this is maybe less ideal.Ultimately, although the book is fairly well written and well researched, I can only give it a lukewarm recommendation.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thinking Small tells the story of the men who designed, brought to life and promoted the Volkswagen Beetle. The emphasis is on Ferdinand Porsche, whose concept of a People¿s Car was fostered by none other than Adolph Hitler, and Bill Bernbach, whose cutting-edge New York ad agency helped make a small German car palatable ¿ beloved even ¿ by drivers in post-World War II America. As the subtitle suggests, it was a long and strange trip. I usually eat up business history books. But I want my non-fiction to be well written, superbly organized and sourced to the nth degree. In this regard, I was disappointed with Thinking Small. (It didn¿t help that the source notes and index were incomplete or absent in the bound galley.) To me, it read like a first draft rather than a finished book. The fact that Thinking Small contained some anecdotal gems tempered my displeasure somewhat; and I did enjoy learning about Doyle Dane Bernbach, one of America¿s premier advertising agencies of the `50s and `60s. Also fascinating was the story of how Germany was administered by the Allies after the end of the Second World War. I was particularly put off by the author¿s lapsing from third to first person; by her inconsistent use of names on second and subsequent references; by her wordiness and lack of clarity. The last few chapters seemed disorganized and the author frequently veered into lecture or editorializing mode rather than story-telling. Still, there were parts of the book that sparkled and I can recommend it with just a few reservations. Review based on published-provided copy of the book.
goodinthestacks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Volkswagen Beetle is an interesting car that makes for a slightly interesting book. The car has a certain place in our culture, for good or bad. Interesting stuff, but it was hard to care so much about an ugly car.
eireannach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is the story of a 20th Century icon, the "People's Car". Conceived in the days before WWII by Adolf Hitler, it was designed by Ferdinand Porsche, of the eponymous sports car company. The book details how this car saved the company in the dark years immediately after the war and how, notwithstanding the opinion of industry leaders such as Henry Ford II, the Beetle was successfully launched in the US. "Thinking Small" vividly illustrates the power of marketing.
vasquirrel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Let me say first, you should be interested in this topic to read this book. That's not a criticism, but the people that enjoy the book the most will be those that have an interest in Volkswagen, Porsche, post-war Germany, advertising, etc. I am certainly one of those people, as both my husband and I currently drive Volkswagens, I learned to drive in a Volkswagen, and my grandfather had a VW dealership in the early seventies. I share that because, with that interest, I knew little to nothing about the VW history, and Hiott has written an exceptionally READABLE volume about a topic that could have been handled in a manner too dry to be enjoyed. The best thing that Hiott does in the book is the way that Volkswagen's intimate connection to Hitler's Germany and post-war Germany is handled. I learned so much that I didn't know about either, but those topics weren't allowed to become or overshadow the main focus - the car itself. It is amazing, all things considered (and this book does consider a lot of variables), that the cars were made at all. A fascinating read!A fascinating read with a light
bw94612 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As someone with a long time fascination with both Nazi Germany and the 1960s I was very intrigued by this book on a subject that encompasses both. The name "Volkswagen" simply means "People's Car" in German. Before World War II there was no affordable European car for the masses--motoring was a luxury reserved for the well off. Auto pioneer Ferdinand Porsche dreamed of a car for the common man for decades, eventually finding a patron in the car-mad Fuhrer himself, Adolf Hitler. This was a huge boost for the car in the '30s. but became a distinct liability after Germany lost the war and left Europe a smoldering wreck.Luckily, a new generation of businessmen revived the car in the aftermath of the war and made it a symbol of the NEW Germany which arose in the '50s. The author does a good job of narrating this saga, giving us enough biographical and historical context that the reader appreciates the many twists and turns in this unlikely business success story.
Fiat8 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author of this book clearly loves her subject matter. This is a really well-researched and careful tale of a car -- which means it is the story of the modern era, too, because this car's journey is the journey of our progress in the 20th century. I thought it would just be the tale of a car, something for us "car guys", but I was surprised at how many things are tied together here, and how much I learned.
nanagee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was definitely not what I expected. It delves a lot deeper into the history of Germany and VW. I expected a lighter of a read and was inundated with so much information. A part of me wishes that the book didn't provide so much information in the beginning, but I don't think it would've tied up as nicely in the end without all the history provided in the rest of the book. While I can't decide whether I love or hate the book -- one thing's for sure, I won't be able to look at VW Beetles quite the same way again.