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

106 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 0345521447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345521446
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)

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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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