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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads Like a Novel
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...
Published on January 19, 2012 by VReviews

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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The VWs aren't the only "bugs" in this book!
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...
Published on January 19, 2012 by P. Eisenman


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads Like a Novel, January 19, 2012
This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars A trifle unpolished--but engaging nonetheless, January 4, 2012
By 
Jonathan A. Turner (Nashua, NH United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
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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.

Similarly, the book opens with a mention of the very first Beetle shipped to the U.S., in 1949, and then drops the matter for a couple of hundred pages. Advertising guru Bill Bernbach is introduced right at the start of chapter one, then gradually drops out of the story. If the introduction made it clear that those first Beetles *utterly failed to sell*, Bernbach's presence would work better (as foreshadowing) than it does sans that context.

_Thinking Small_ is also marred by numerous minor infelicities of pacing, fact, or phrasing. Hiott refers to an American "Colonel Oberst", but "Oberst" is merely the German for "Colonel." "Languages from all over Europe" include "Mexican" (twice), "Cuban", and "South African". Heinrich Nordhoff is alternately referred to by first and last name. Sometimes one scene is followed by another one that, it turns out, took place some years earlier. There are some awkward and not very relevant pop-culture references. Trains took "weeks" to cross North America ... and so on. I read a pre-release copy; I hope that some of these will be ironed out in the final proofs.

In the end, however, I'm giving the book four stars. The editing problems are irksome, but not ultimately substantive. Hiott's writing is easy and fluid, like what you'd read in a good literate magazine. She does a fine job with her characters, and touches strongly on some of the larger social and economic contrasts and contradictions of the Volkswagen's story. (Compare the propaganda that fueled Hitler's rise and the ground-breaking advertising that fueled the Bug's, for example.) Most importantly, she's got good subject matter. I wouldn't necessarily push _Thinking Small_ on anyone who isn't already interested, but it's a pretty good read for anyone who is.
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The VWs aren't the only "bugs" in this book!, January 19, 2012
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This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
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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.

2) Lack of knowledge about European history, WWI, WWII and German history. A few examples: Mistatements about events surrounding the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand--attributing attacks to "the first car bomb" (attempting to toss a handgrenade into a car does not a car bomb make!--the Archduke deflected it with his arm, and it exploded BEHIND the car), then stating he was shot later that night, when in fact he was shot in the late morning and both he and his wife were dead by 11AM. Author says World War I destroyed TWO empires, presumably meaning the German and Austro-Hungarian, while not noticing the destruction of the Ottoman and Russian empires (making a total of FOUR). I'll chalk up thinking the German Empire started under Wilhelm II to a typo (should be Wilhelm I). Author seemed confused about who was running Austria-Hungary, saying his Imperial Majesty was "Archduke Franz Ferdinand" instead of Emperor Franz Josef.

Additionally, author states that France surrendered in 1940 because the Italians invaded southern France! I'd suggest the author should read The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 by William L. Shirer. Author Hiott also would have done herself (and her readers) a favor by reading, in its entirety, William Shirer's definitive The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany before even venturing into any aspect of what exactly happened in regards to Hitler and the rise of the Nazis. Checking the bibliography, author Hiott appears not to have even used it as a reference in any form.

3) Lots of "common knowledge truths" repeated as if they actually were true. Any decent investigation into Hoover's course of action from 1929-32 lays bare the myth (which is accepted as truth) that Hoover sat on his hands and did "nothing" to help the economy. For a look at a president who actually did NOTHING, one should alternately investigate Harding/Coolidge and the recession of 1920-21 and compare the results in terms of the economic recovery which did (or did not) result.

4) The book wanders off on tangents and pages go by with nary a mention of anything about VW. It's chock full of supposition and opinions masquerading as facts. Hypothetical conversations presented with "possible" imagined quotations. Lots of irrelevant sentimentalities and boatloads of psychological, economic and political postulating straying to all sorts of contradictory ends. Veers off into, and proclaims, the virtues of the theories of Adam Smith and free markets, then veers off and proclaims the virtues of Keynsian economic theory and then wanders off again into the value of Marxist economic theory. The only thing I gleaned from all the contrary economic theories presented (none of them apparently bad) was that the author has NO concrete belief in ANY economic theory, but rather leans in the direction of whatever idea last entered her thought process.

5) The tone of the work is one of the reader being even more clueless than the author. Rather like a kindergarten teacher who, when talking to other adults, speaks to them as if they were 5 year olds. Yes, some of us actually KNOW what a "C pillar" is! Anybody's who even somewhat into automobiles and their history is probably going to feel that the book is "dumbed down".

I could go on, but you get the idea.

On the other hand, there IS SOME WORTHWHILE CONTENT. If this book were re-edited and boiled down to its essence, you'd be left with a coherent and informative history of the VW. As is, though, you need to go through it with a fine tooth comb in order to weed out all the inaccuracies, opinions, and plain irrelevant sections.

If you're looking for a top-calibre history of Volkswagen, I'd recommend passing on this book. If you're curious about the old adage, "write what you know" and discovering why enthusiasm for a subject alone does not a good book make, then you might want to take a look. Or, if you're not too fussy about facts, but like the idea of assessing automotive history in regards to a larger sociological perspective, then you'd probably actually like this book.

In the end, I'll give TWO STARS to THINK SMALL. The writing style is entertaining and there is almost enough worthwhile information here to balance out the very severe shortcomings. If it were simply a matter of wandering, opining and irrelevancies, I'd probably rate it THREE STARS. But, in any work of history, FACTS are the most important thing and the sheer volume of innacuracies precludes rating it any higher than TWO. It could be MUCH better with some heavy editing and corrections. My original idea of a title for this review was, "A one-car wreck on the automotive history highway." After finishing the book, I would venture to say, "it's not a total loss. Have it towed and with some extensive repairs, it might just be roadworthy." If that were to happen, I'd be willing to re-read and re-evaluate my rating. There is something good in THINK SMALL, it just needs a major overhaul.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appreciatd the seldom seen photos and detailed text, January 14, 2012
This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
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As a fan of the Bug who grew up with at least a dozen Beetles and Karmann Ghias I appreciated the detailed history Ms. Hoitt put into this book. It brought back nice memories. As a big fan of auto history I think this is a fine contribution to the large VW body of work. Well-written and informed, I learned many new details about the development of the Bug. Along the way the the reader is immersed in German and European history, pre, during and post-WW2. All in all I enjoyed this book and recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Connecting the dots..., May 7, 2012
By 
ARH (The Shadow of the Tetons) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
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So, what do automotive genius Ferdinand Porsche, his son Ferry (who designed the predecessor of the Porsche 911), WWI, Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party, the German autobahn, Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company, a large factory built in the middle of nowhere - not even near a town, WWII, the British Government, the British Army, a former executive of GM/Opal who hated the idea of a people's car, Mexico, and an advertising firm based in NYC and run by a Jew and a Greek?

Those are the dots.

Andrea Hiott, a historian with an eye for an interesting and somewhat quirky story, takes a some quirky steps of her own in telling the tale of not only the VW Beetle, but of the birth of the entire VW Motor Company. Be prepared to be introduced to players and events that at first seem to have no immediate connection, if you choose to dive into this telling. Once the dots are introduced and fully fleshed out, only then does Hiott weaves them together into a cohesive narrative.

So, why only 4 stars? Of course, I'm just writing a review, and sharing my opinion, but IMO Hiott sometimes meandered a bit too far and wide in fleshing out the dots...to the point that sometimes it felt to me like she really wanted to tell either another or a bigger story than the one about the VW Beetle. After occasional long strolls in vaguely-related paths Hiott seemed to me to have to will herself to return to the tale of the Beetle. Don't get me wrong, some of these tales really resonated with me. Like when she expounded on why someone would stay in a country that in retrospect and even at the time was clearly bent on the demise of an entire group of its own population (Nazis and Jews), and the part that resonated was how someone could see that their government was making decisions they could not support, yet they still loved their country.

All in all it's a great tale...but it takes some doing to wade through certain parts of the book, especially the very beginning, which seems to take a bit of time to get rolling.

OK, 4 stars...interesting stuff...interesting connections.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Historical Account for the VW Enthusiast, April 22, 2012
This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
So, my husband and I currently own and drive a 64 Beetle, 66 Single Cab Pickup, 91 Vanagon Westy, 2001 Beetle and 2007 GTI. We have a bumper sticker on our Vanagon that sums our philosophy up: We eat, breathe, sleep, live, laugh, love VW.

Besides many repair manuals, we also own a dozen or so non fiction books on the history of the Beetle, the Bus, and of the Volkswagen Company. For me, I've always just skimmed though all these books and looked at pictures- ignorant of entire history behind the cars I love so much.

Then by chance at my local library, Thinking Small was on display in the new, non-fiction section and I picked it up. Hmm...the author is female...and with the same first name as me! This I've got to read- and I did. I just finished the book. It not only gave a historical account of the Beetle and of Volkswagen, it was also a semi-biography of Ferdinand Porsche as well as DDB Advertising Company who's ads helped skyrocket the popularity of the Beetle in the US.

It wasn't stiff, and boring. the author's writing had flair, as she included emotion into the book- of how the German people felt during the times of Hitler and after the war. Not only did she add how Porsche and Nordhoff were regarded by the German people, but how Porsche and Nordhoff felt in return. Adding emotion helped it feel like good, non-fiction as opposed to reading a high school, history textbook. Some of the other books in our VW collection are just plain factual, that they've offered me no allure- wanting nothing more than to look at the pictures. This book captured my attention from the start.

In mentioning historical events, many times the author stopped and helped explain, define, describe what the world was like at the time- things such as the thoughts, ideas, ideals, and industrial advancements (such as electricity, automobiles and architecture) to help put things into perspective. One might feel it went off on too many tangents....but I enjoyed gaining the larger perspective. For this reason, the book is longer than other VW books in our collection. But, it also goes up to current times, including the re-rebirth of the 2012 Beetle.

The book shifted back and forth, explaining what was going on in Germany in one chapter, then the next chapter paralleling what was going on in the lives of the key employees at DDB in New York at the same time. Where eventually in the late 50's the connection was made between VW and DDB.

It has compelled me to pull a bus book (with pretty colored pictures) out of our collection to read next and learn more of Ben Pon and the history of the bus. Eventually I'll look into reading more on the Porsche Company.

So...if you don't know all the history behind the story of Volkswagen Beetle, and don't have enough other books in your VW collection...I do highly recommend this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting when on topic, January 29, 2012
This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
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This book discusses the history of the VW Beetle, a car that was designed by Ferdinand Porsche and then championed by Hitler. It follows the story from several sides -- the advertising executives that drove the campaigns that popularized it in the US, the Porsche family and Porsche's obsession with a people's car, the eventual manager of the Volkswagen company, all against the backdrop of world events, particularly the rise of Hitler. With such a cast of characters, there is plenty of interest for the book.

The book flows well when it is discussing its primary topic -- the history of the VW. It includes numerous photographs and a detailed history of how the car came to be. But, the book is overly ambitious. Understandably, the author paints the development of the car against the backdrop of World War II and its aftermath. Here, however, the author falls short. Her discussion of the war is glossed over and overly simplified at best, and it is also hard to feel empathy for the privations of the German car employees, given what just enfolded throughout the area. It would have been much better if the author stuck to the topic that she had researched instead of broadening. This also would have reduced the size of the book, which could be tightened.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Detail -- Great Writing Style -- Full Coverage of the VW Story, December 31, 2011
By 
JPfromOH (northeastern Ohio) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Freelance journalist Andrea Hiott's Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle tells the story of the iconic German automobile, going back to the early lives of Ferdinand Porsche and Adolf Hitler and extending all the way to the 2012 New(er) Beetle. By looking at the childhoods of Porsche and Hitler, as well as their early careers, their shared desire for a "people's car" to motorize Germany takes on a context that is missing from some of the other Volkswagen histories of the past. Hiott's book, though, is much more than just a history of the development of a car and the second largest automobile company in the world. She parallels that part of the story with the story of New York advertising agency Doyle Dan Bernbach. The two stories converge with DDB's development of print ads in 1960 that helped the Volkswagen Beetle to become a true icon of the 1960s. Hiott's style is fluid and the research seems to be solid. Highly recommended for all gearheads/petrolheads!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceeded My Expectations, An Outstanding Book!, March 7, 2012
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This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
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I always find it interesting to read the other reviews before I write mine; sometimes I wonder if we're all talking about the same book. It is evident that each reviewer brings their own perspectives to their reviews and their probable personality types are clearly revealed; that is all perfectly normal and what makes the reviews so interesting to read. I just happened to find this book delightful and fascinating and really enjoyed reading it; it far exceeded my expectations for a book about the VW Beetle.

For the record, our very first car was a 1956 Beetle and we were so proud of it we nearly popped. At the time I was in the United States Navy and our home port was Norfolk, Virginia when we decided it was time to buy our first car. I cannot remember the factors that went into our selecting a 1956 VW but the price probably had a lot to do with it; as I recall it was somewhere around $1,800 total.

When I saw this book advertised I thought that it would be interesting in light of our history with the Beetle. I could tell a lot of stories about our adventures with that little car, especially when I got discharged and drove it back home to Texas. All I was really expecting was a story about the car but what I got was a comprehensive study of not only the car, but the men involved in its development and the times in which they lived. I was really excited by the opportunity to learn so much about the background that produced this car and found the book to be a serious page turner.

There is one thing for sure and that is the author was not thinking small when she developed her concept for the book; if one is looking for a review similar to an article in one of the contemporary auto magazines this is most assuredly not it. If, on the other hand, one has a broader interest in the car as it was developed in the context of the political, economic, and social environment this book does a wonderful job of filling in many important details that had a profound influence on its development and eventual production.

This book is beautifully tuned to the globalist, detail oriented mindset and I definitely fall into that category. If on the other hand you want to just get to the point and move on you may find this book loaded with too much tedious detail. As a Vine Voice, I received an "Advance Uncorrected Proofs" copy of the book; I have since ordered a final published edition to add to my permanent collection. That is the highest recommendation I can give it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How a Car and an Ad Campaign Changed the Automotive World, February 19, 2012
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This review is from: Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a fascinating story-within-a-story: Germany between the Wars, the interactions between Der Fuhrer and VW's design team, and how a war-torn company became one of the world's dominant manufacturers. It's ironic how a car with such a funky, cheery image can be so interwoven with Fascism, but Der Fuhrer (who seemed passionate about cars although he seldom drove) wanted a small, easily manufactured, cheap car for the masses, and the Beetle's predecessor was it. Most of the book discusses how the Volkswagen concept was developed, and, although interesting for history buffs or Volksophiles, it is quite long and occasionally tedious and can safely be ignored by the general reader. It was interesting, though, to read about the dance between two authoritarian, stubborn, disagreeable men (Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche, VW's design chief) who thought they knew everything, but who knew they needed each other to realize their dreams.

The more interesting middle section of the book discusses the post-War Beetle. Anyone who ever owned one probably agrees with the author that they were unlike anything else, and have a special place in the popular culture of the late Fifties and Sixties. For America, they represented an evolution away from big cars to something smaller, less expensive, better assembled, more sensible, and supposedly more fun to drive. Detroit took decades to grudgingly make this transition, and American manufacturing became completely transformed by then (of course, so was VW -- when the company resurrected its New Beetle retro-car, every major design element unique to the original Beetle was changed. Except, of course, the image.).

The last part of the book discusses that Beetle Image, and is especially notable. A superb advertising campaign made the Volkswagen Beetle, for all its significant safety and design flaws, into an image for quality, acceptable nonconformity, and intelligence plus enjoyability. The US-based ad series for the VW was a masterpiece and, perhaps, the main reason for the ascendancy of the car, its image, and its company. The author informs us that the right ad, and the right image, can have powerful effects, no matter what the ad is for.
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Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle
Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle by Andrea Hiott (Hardcover - January 17, 2012)
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