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Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle Hardcover – January 17, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"The well-researched story of an iconic car...Hiott's debut is an assured, enthusiastic account...The author goes beyond the cars themselves, exploring why the Beetles of the 1960s and '70s--certainly not the sexiest or most impressive automobiles--became hip...if you're a fan of fahrvergnügen, this is essential stuff."-Kirkus Review

"[Hiott] 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...a surprisingly substantial and far-reaching chronicle of 'a car that belongs to the world.'" Publishers Weekly

"Hiott set out to find out how this modest car became a symbol of two antithetical ideas of utopia, one animated by racial hatred, the other by unconditional love...The story of its creators and champions is... an 'amalgamation of the larger shifts taking place in the world...'"-Michael WashburnSan Francisco Chronicle

" and rewarding in its historical detail..." Brett Berk, Bloomberg Businessweek
"...diligently researched...breezy...Such was the car's universal appeal that if it were invented today it would likely be called the iBug." - Wall Street Journal

"Hiott's account should appeal to history buffs, car enthusiasts and readers who delight in a fascinating story." -- Jerry Harkavy, Associated Press

Advance praise for Thinking Small
“I am definitely the kind of person who very much appreciates the difficulty and value of looking at something everyone is familiar with in a fresh, new way. Candidly, at first I had very little interest in this book because I am so familiar with the VW/Porsche story. But to my delight, as I looked through it I found a fascinating new perspective on the events. Also many untold stories, such as the beginnings of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the greatest advertising agency of all time. My congratulations to Ms. Hiott for a marvelous piece of work.”—Jerry Seinfeld, comedian
Thinking Small is a delightthe improbable, wonderfully told tale of the Volkswagen Beetle, from its early days as Adolf Hitler’s dream car to the beloved symbol of freedom and fun for millions of Americans.  With her impeccable research and deep understanding of German and U.S. history and culture, Andrea Hiott does a superb job of bringing to life both the snub-nosed little car and the large cast of colorful characters who designed it, then made it one of the most coveted consumer objects in the world.”—Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London
“From Hitler’s Germany to Woodstock, selling matzos to selling cars, and urban architecture to automotive design, in Thinking Small, Andrea Hiott takes readers on a wise and crafty ride over a wide and twisting narrative terrain. It’s a journey that is deeply compelling, thought-provoking, and, not least, great fun.”—Howard Blum, New York Times bestselling author of The Floor of Heaven and American Lightning

From the Inside Flap

Sometimes achieving big things requires the ability to think strange.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345521420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345521422
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #373,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By VReviews VINE VOICE on January 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My first car was an old '71 Bug. I always refer to the VW Beetle as a bug because as a kid Disney's original Love Bug was such a fun iconic movie, and that name stuck. I again owned a VW Beetle in the 2000's when the new Beetle hit America and caused a stir once again. So I naturally gravitated to Andrea Hiott's exploration of all things Beetle. Knowing the dark genesis of the VW Beetle; but experiencing the fun, positive reincarnation of the Bug in America, I wanted to know how that metamorphosis transpired. Really it's got to be one of the most successful product repackaging or re-imaging stories in commercial history.

Hiott's outstanding treatise answers the metamorphosis question tenfold. Her command of the English language is so satisfying. From the thought-provoking quotes at the beginning of each major section, to the photos, and historical tidbits; this book is enjoyable to read. The book is long; but doesn't bore because it's written as a novel with excellent plotting. She delves into the lives of the principal players (Porsche, Hitler, Heinrich, Bernbach) starting in childhood; which provides insight into the motivation of these driven men. Hiott's background and experience lends itself well as she provides cultural and societal details that ground the history to the events on a relatable level.

Hiott's analysis really develops the VW Beetle as transcending the mechanical car, and posits the idea that the Beetle is really a metaphor for what society needs or wants in any given time. Well reasoned, researched, and written.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan A. Turner VINE VOICE on January 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a good book that could have been better. It's structurally a little awkward, and in some places it could use more attention to detail. On the other hand, it's a clear and interesting tale of the Bug's long and improbable genesis, complete with an eccentric automotive genius, a mad dictator, and a creative renegade ad-man.

Andrea Hiott makes the interesting choice to eschew technical detail almost entirely. The engineering of the VW Beetle is touched on, but only as it impacts the lives of her protagonists. The people, more than the car, are the focus of _Thinking Small_. It's a biography of a vehicle composed of the biographies of the men (not women) who were its parents and godparents.

That's not a bad decision. Some readers will appreciate it more than others; I'm an engineer, and would happily have absorbed more engineering. Many other readers may find the focus on character to be a welcome relief. It helps, too, that the cast is a relatively small one--and that so many of them are larger than life. One of Hiott's strengths is to bring those characters to vivid life.

All the same, there's something oddly lopsided about her casting, and in consequence about the book itself. The first half of the book contains a ton of biography about Adolf Hitler, for example. Hitler is certainly relevant, and his fascination with cars is an important and lesser known facet of the story; but the narrative of (e.g.) his days "wandering Vienna's streets," or of his treason trial, is less clearly important. I understand why Hitler's there, but these and such-like digressions are why the book takes half of its length getting to the end of World War II, at which time the number of production VWs in the world was approximately zero.
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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful By P. Eisenman on January 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Let's start with the good. THINKING SMALL does contain an interesting look at the history of the Volkswagen Beetle from its origination to the present day in the context of the vehicle as viewed from a sociological standpoint. As an additional positive, it contains more than a passing look at the U.S. advertising campaign for the Beetle which not only pushed the VW to the forefront of imports, but also revolutionized the advertising world.

Unfortunately, the book is marred with a wide variety of problems. I am a voracious reader of both automotive and military history. I've filled 5 bookcases full of auto history books, ranging from coffee table volumes, to detailed histories of companies and personalities, to technical service manuals--and I've read them all. As I started on THINK SMALL, it quickly became apparent, that while author Hiott had a great deal of passion for her subject, she also had little or no prior knowledge of automotive (or military) history--a shortcoming that opened the door for all sorts of troubles. I rarely take notes while reading, but I'd filled several pages by midway through this book.

So, in no order of egregiousness, here's what troubled me about THINK SMALL:

1) Lack of knowledge of automotive history. Author cites air-cooled auto engines being a "new" thing in the early 1930s, Tatra being the "first" to try it. In fact, FRANKLIN had been producing successful air-cooled automobiles since 1902, selling thousands (peak yearly sales near 11,000 in 1929) before succombing to the evaporation of the luxury class market in 1932!
Author believes Nash to have been located in Detroit--while company had offices there, facilities were located in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
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