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Thinking Small

The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle

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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.

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 31, 2011 – Hiott, editor-in-chief of a cultural journal called Pulse, presents the history of the whimsical German automobile, unveiling an intricate saga that spans nearly 90 years and includes some of the most monumental shifts in politics, economics, and creativity in the past century. The story begins with Ferdinand Porsche, the Austrian car designer, who was unable to find a backer for his “small car” design until Adolf Hitler “got his idea for giving Germany a People’s Car,” or Volkswagen. Given Hitler’s involvement, the story of Volkswagen is a tangle that interweaves combat, Nazis, war crimes, British occupation, the Marshall Plan, the division of the German state and mid-century economic reforms, but Hiott is able tie all the story lines into a compelling and revealing tale of inspiration, tragedy and triumph thanks to her in-depth research. Hiott, an American-born journalist who lives in Berlin, also illuminates the cultural significance of the Beetle, focusing heavily on how the Madison Avenue firm DDB created a revolutionary advertising strategy for Volkswagen that helped the car become not only a symbol of the ’60s counterculture movement but also a representation of American individuality and freedom. Woven together with a prose that is both serious and conversational, this thorough history of Volkswagen is a surprisingly substantial and far-reaching chronicle of “a car that belongs to the world.”

Customer Reviews


I borrowed this book from a public library because it caught my eye on the internet after doing some research for my history project on Henry Ford. I started reading the whole book after completing my project and was amazed to discover so many new things about the Beetle's origins, influences, and existence today. Being a car fanatic, I absolutely love stuff that will involve cars. Before reading this book, I wasn't much of a VW fan. Now, I absolutely find all of VW interesting. Thank you Andrea Hiott for this book. I love it.

Thinking Small
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  • $13.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: History
  • Published: Jan 17, 2012
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 512 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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